Sonoma County Tourism rebrands under 'Life Opens Up' slogan

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Sonoma County Tourism on Thursday held its annual meeting, marking a pivotal time for the destination marketing organization as it moves forward with a new business plan following October’s wildfires.

The new strategic business plan is structured around three priorities: Rebuild, Review and Reenergize, according to Claudia Vecchio, CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. SCT, a nonprofit 501(c)6 organization, receives the majority of its funding from a 2 percent assessment on applicable lodging rooms within the Sonoma County Tourism Business Improvement Area.

SCT’s new business plan encompasses the organization’s strategy post-fires, as well as its focus going forward under Vecchio’s leadership. She took over as CEO in November.

As laid out in the strategic business plan, SCT will work to rebuild its reputation through transparent, accountable and aspirational programs, carried out by working with community organizations to help rebuild the economy and the perception of Sonoma County as an inviting destination for travelers.

SCT identified key performance indicators. Those KPIs include increasing visitation by 2 percent year-over-year, launching a research foundation to track and communicate the organization’s performance, and boosting community outreach, among others. The review includes cutting programs that aren’t working, as well as a year-end review to measure results.

The organization’s third component is to reenergize its team, programs and the community through its sales program, customer engagement activities and the launch of a new brand, which Vecchio unveiled at Thursday’s meeting.

The new branding has changed from, “What’s Your Sonoma Passion?” to “Life Opens Up,” a shift in messaging from conveying the reasons tourists should come to Sonoma County, to what they will discover for themselves when they visit. The new brand campaign will be rolled out globally beginning in late October.

SCT also is cutting back on its heavily focused marketing and publicity efforts in favor of a more balanced approach to its outreach.

“As we come up on one year (since the fires), we’re not going to do anything proactively from a publicity standpoint,” Vecchio said, explaining SCT is now taking a reactionary approach. “We know we’re going to get calls and we’re ready for those with the answers.”

The organization will continue to monitor traditional and social media, outreach to its hospitality partners and monitoring fires throughout the state, she said.

“We know the perception of California as being burned is out there and we are working with our partners throughout the state to make sure we mitigate those issues” for tourists with the intent to travel, she said.

James Gore, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, spoke about the past year and lauded the efforts of the county’s lodging association, particularly its post-fires pamphlets about how businesses can prepare and protect from future fires.

“That doesn’t have to be a fearful place,” Gore said. “It’s a place of preparedness and changing our paradigm and not expecting the past to catch up with us. The future is going to catch up with us far faster than the past.”

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