SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — For decades, Sacramento has been known as a city of government and convention. But as the pandemic shut down travel for both business and leisure, it has allowed California’s capital to seize the moment and reinvent itself as a destination city.
“Leisure travel has actually grown,” says Mike Testa, CEO of VisitSacramento.
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No, this is not a typo. While VisitCalifornia predicts that tourist travel spending will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, Sacramento has actually already surpassed its 2019 figures. This is due to a change in strategy that took place before the pandemic, but is bearing fruit now.
“For a long time, Sacramento was a one-trick pony in the convention center,” Testa explains.
But COVID forced a change of priority. With conventions canceled, government employees going home, and the need for a soul-searching to save businesses in the city, Testa and his team began to take a different approach.
“We started investing in music festivals, food festivals, sports,” says Testa. “We also took over the sports commission.”
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It paid off in the long run. Kimpton Sawyer CEO Nikki Carlson also noticed that old trends are changing.
“Historically, weekends at this time of year, and generally earlier before the pandemic, have been a little softer in this market,” she said.
Carlson said she believes COVID, from a purely business standpoint, has given the city a fresh start to re-evaluate what drew visitors to the metropolitan area.
“I think we have some advantage,” Carlson explained. “I think there were quick turns. We used it as an opportunity not to sit on our heels but to be on our toes and figure out how we’re going to help make Sacramento relevant.”
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Testa says convention attendance is projected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2025. They are booked for congress events until 2031. In the meantime, the city hopes to further expand its tourist travel sector and make Sacramento another destination city in Northern California.