Central Valley

Area farms attracts tourists

OAKDALE -- Agritourism is an interesting niche market for attracting visitors to Stanislaus County, said Bill Geist, a tourism consultant. But there's a bigger picture with broader appeal: the food itself.

"Culinary tours are more interesting," Geist told about 100 tourism industry representatives at the Ninth Annual Winter Forum of the Stanislaus Regional Tourism Roundtable on Thursday.

Geist, from Madison, Wisconsin, has served as president of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, president of the Wisconsin Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus and vice chairman of the board of the Wisconsin Tourism Federation. He is the author of "Destination Leadership for Boards," and hosts a teleseminar series for destination marketing and management professionals.

"Foodies," the people who appreciate food and look for food experiences, are more interested in the arts and culture and spend three times as much as the nonfood oriented tourist, according to Geist.

The food doesn't have to be gourmet, he added, but should offer a unique experience.

Christie Camarillo, the executive director of the Oakdale Cowboy Museum, offered up a local example: Oakdale's Testicle Festival. "It's part of our ranching and cowboy heritage, and it's unique and funny," Camarillo said. "People have fun."

That's the key, Geist said. People are looking for unique experiences, something they can talk about over the water cooler at work on Monday. "It's ultimately about experience," Geist said. "Unique things, different things, something new."

The aim is to boost the tourism dollars coming into Stanislaus County, which already top $400 million.

The Regional Tourism Roundtable is a group of agencies and businesses that have been meeting for nine years to find ways to boost tourism in Stanislaus County. It includes chambers of commerce, visitors bureaus, motel operators and tourist attraction venues such as the Sierra Railroad, Hilmar Cheese and Stanislaus River Parks.

Reporter Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 209 578-2349.