Staff of Oakland’s tourism bureau will hit the road Saturday to spread the word about all that’s good in the East Bay city.
They’ll hop in a van that reads “Visit Oakland” in bright blue letters and head to coastal cities like Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to convince residents there to make Oakland their next weekend getaway. They’ll also address any concerns people may have about crime.
It’s all part of a larger campaign to improve the city’s image and draw more tourist dollars.
Alison Best, president and CEO of Visit Oakland, the city’s tourism bureau, spoke with KQED’s Mina Kim about the push to get more visitors.
Listen to the interview:
Read the edited transcript:
MINA KIM: Ms. Best, I understand you hired a consultant to learn what visitors think about the city. What did you find out?
ALISON BEST: That there’s a great pride in Oakland. There’s everything that a destination could want — from the redwood forest to the ocean to diversity to arts. But there was also an underlying challenge of urban crime that a lot of urban cities deal with. But in Oakland, in particular, it’s been able to lead the destination story because we haven’t been very proactive in telling the positive news.
KIM: So what will the staff highlight about Oakland?
BEST: Well, I think it is the two-, three-, four-day activities that you can do here in Oakland that people just aren’t aware of. Right now, I’m standing in an area called Fruitvale, which is largely Latino and has amazing Mexican food. I’m in an industrial arts corridor now that is sort of an emerging part of town, and there’s just unknown gems in our city. You can be up in the woods, you can be out on the water, you can Segway, you can eat your way around Oakland.
KIM: Knowing that crime will be on some people’s minds, what will your staff say to people who are worried about getting mugged, for example?
BEST: Our message is we are an urban city, and in a growing urban city there will always be an element of crime, and Oakland is no different. We’re not going to tiptoe around it, but I think there are so many positives, and there are beautiful parts of Oakland.
KIM: So it sounds like you’re saying the crime in Oakland is not unusual. What’s unusual is that Oakland has done such a poor job of highlighting its positives.
BEST: Yeah, I would say that that’s true. We really have an opportunity to shine a positive spotlight on Oakland, and which many cities have done very well for years. I mean, if you or I were to go to New Orleans, we would go because we know there’s great music, and there’s great food, and there’s a pulse there that drives us to that place. I think we need to define what’s special about Oakland, and then get that out so that people have something to define us by.
KIM: What city improvements are you advocating for to make the city more tourist friendly?
BEST: Way-finding is the most obvious. Looking at the entry points into Oakland. What do those entry points look like? We have the new, beautiful Bay Bridge, but how can we have people come off the bridge and know clearly where they’re going? How can we improve the 880 corridors that links our beautiful airport to downtown?
KIM: So, better lighting, better signage…
BEST: Better lighting, graffiti abatement, beautification of medians.
KIM: And this is just the beginning. Are you planning on doing road shows outside of California?
BEST: Yeah, we’re looking at our feeder markets. So we’ll probably take the mobile car to Portland and hit a festival or two there. We may even take it as far as Vancouver and Seattle because that’s a big market for us. We look forward getting out there on the road and really highlighting Oakland originals on this trip. Oaklandish, one of our great retail stores here designed a T-shirt with all sorts of things that originated in Oakland — like the Popsicle and Rocky Road ice cream and the fortune cookie, and we’re just going along the coast and just dropping in and saying look, Oakland is open for business and we’re so proud of it, and we’d love you to come and visit. We’re a short drive. Join our newsletter and follow what we’re doing.