Brad has worked in hospitality and tourism industry all his life, including working for most of the major national hotel brands. Currently he is Executive Director of Visit Santa Rosa and has helped grow the destination organization from a staff of 1.5 people to 5 and doubled the revenues since taking over in 2011.
THE CALKINS STORY —
Since I was a kid, I always enjoyed traveling. Growing up, I didn’t want to be a fireman or policeman, I wanted to be a pilot or hotel general manager. My father worked for the airlines so as a family our vacations were spent flying all over the globe. My interest lead me to major in hotel and restaurant management and out of college ended up at the Westin Maui, not bad for my first real gig.
As a general manger, you move around quite a bit and I enjoyed working and seeing different parts of the United States. Of course, a good story also has someone you love in it. When my wife and I got married we had to decide, do we want to live in Silicon Valley or Sonoma wine country. Sonoma won! We fell in love with the area and when it was time for a new professional challenge for once in my life I didn’t want to move. Timing is everything sometimes and when it was time to look for that something new in Sonoma County, the bureau was reinventing itself and I found the job I love in an area I love.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
I truly love what I am doing. For example, I have two titles on my business cards, one is Executive Director and the other is Chief Eating and Drinking Officer. When you live and represent a location like Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, it is easy to get up in the morning and want to get started. Plus, my days are never the same. Sometimes I get to work in public relations, some days sales and some days I get to work with our volunteers and visitors at the Welcome Center. I love the variety and all the interactions, not only with great people but also with great partners like restaurants and attractions.
What was the overall impact to the Santa Rosa broader area given the fires that happened late in ’17?
The biggest impact was to our housing and the entire county is working on rebuilding. From a visitor standpoint of view, the hardest thing is to overcome the perception that the tourism infrastructure is not there and that simply is not true. We have 425 wineries open and we lost no breweries. In addition, not only are the hotels and restaurants open for business, we have added new ones that were already in development before the fires.
How long was the recovery period and how is the area doing now?
The area is doing great and Santa Rosa is on track to have a record year for many of our hotels and hospitality businesses. That being said, we are still in the building period for many of our homes and a few of our restaurants and our one winery. Most of what you might see is behind the scenes but important to Santa Rosa’s long-term future.
What’s the driving force bringing people to the area?
Wine is the driving force and what people think of first. Of course, our food and culinary also go hand in hand with wine. Farm to table defines Sonoma County. We have three year-round farmers markets because of our location and weather. We also supply so many well know cheeses, salmon from Bodega Bay along with fresh duck, grass fed beef and lamb all from our county.
Outline a specific element tied to Santa Rosa that may be underappreciated or even not known to those who are contemplating a visit?
The beauty of the outdoors and the variety. A lot of visitors love the rolling vineyards and that is the romantic picture they have in mind. While most of them enjoy other outdoor activities and the natural beauty they often don’t include this as part of their initial planning process. In Sonoma County you can enjoy the rugged Pacific Coastline or the old redwoods of Armstrong Woods State Park. You can also enjoy an outdoor theater experience in Jack London State Park.
How do you go about getting feedback from those who visit?
The best visitor feedback come from our volunteers at our California Welcome Center. The volunteers love talking to our visitors who stop by. It is very exciting when someone goes out of their way and returns to the visitor center to tell the volunteer what a great time they had based on the staff’s recommendations.
Describe the impact that golf provides to the overall area in terms of tourism?
We are excited by the recent interest. We recently hosted the American Junior Golf Association’s Wyndham Cup. This was a Ryder Cup style format that featured 40 boys and girls from the east verses the west. Next year they will be back for a national junior golf championship. In addition, last year we hosted a stop on the LPGA as the Symetra Tour and this year the LPGA is looking at returning as the Volvik Tour schedule.
When visitors come — what is the approximate duration of the visit and the approximate amount of dollars spent?
Most visitors stay for a long weekend and spending is based upon the experience. Do you want the retro motel and brewery experience or the upscale boutique hotel with spa and wine pairing dinner?
Given the increasing impact from Millennials — what steps are being taken to both attract and maintain interest from this key group?
Millennials are becoming a larger part of our audience, especially those who live in the San Francisco/ Silicon Valley bay area. If you look at some of our imagery, you can see we are including more and more for the millennials.
Outline the short- and long-term challenges and opportunities facing Santa Rosa in the tourism arena?
The short term is reinforcing that Santa Rosa is open for business. We have more new restaurants that opened downtown, and in the surrounding area, than were lost due to the fires. In addition, the county has more hotels opening than what were lost. For the long term, we need to grow our workforce to server the visitors and new openings.
Photos courtesy of Visit Santa Rosa
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