Partner Spotlight | Visit Berkeley

Downtown Berkeley with the iconic UC Berkeley "Campanile" clock tower in the foreground. Photo courtesy Facebook/Visit Berkeley.
 
The BARTable Partner Spotlight series continues here with the Destination Marketing Organization (“DMO”), Visit Berkeley. While the pandemic stalled travelling, far, wide and locally, Visit Berkeley has continued to move forward through creative thinking and downright good ideas to support the businesses within the city. With the tagline, “Come for the culture, stay for the food” their thinking outside of the box to modify that to current conditions has not only been impressive, but has also kept the element of strength well and alive.
 
In this spotlight, we touch base with our Visit Berkeley friends, Dan Marengo and Jeffrey Church. These are the guys that bring us Berkeley Restaurant Week each year and, in the pandemic, brought us Berkeley Restaurant Week “To Go” or #BRWToGo, not just once but twice. We’d call that resilience and upholding their mission at its finest.
 
Visit Berkeley's Dan Marengo and Jeffrey Church (l-r). Photo courtesy Visit Berkeley.
 
A little bit about Visit Berkeley, some history, your roles, how you came to Visit Berkeley
 
“Visit Berkeley has served as the city's DMO since 1992! Our CEO, Barbara Hillman, started it all as the Berkeley Convention & Visitors Bureau with a small office on University Avenue. She's still our CEO and one of the longest-tenured of any DMO in California. Jeffrey Church joined Visit Berkeley in 2017 after graduating from UC Berkeley and working at Cal's Conference Services division. Jeff embodies hospitality and his positive attitude is a beacon for Berkeley's tourism sector in his role as Visitor & Partner Services Manager. Dan Marengo joined Visit Berkeley in 2009 with a background in tourism marketing and communications. As Communications Director, he is a skilled wordsmith and steward of the Visit Berkeley brand.”
 
Visit Berkeley’s relationship to Berkeley and the wider Bay Area
 
“Visit Berkeley is a non-profit organization with the mission to promote the city as a desirable place for personal and group travel, meetings, conferences and filming. Historically our role has been to market outside of the city to bring new revenue into our hotels and tourism-related businesses. That role has evolved in recent years to include regional and local marketing of our restaurants, independent merchants and the arts.”
 
Berkeley is a world-renowned college town with a unique vibe, abundant history, outstanding food, brilliant art and diverse culture. There's something for everyone. Photos courtesy Visit Berkeley (l-r): Berkeley City Club, Jupiter, entrance to UC Berkeley.
 
How the pandemic has affected Visit Berkeley and those you provide support
 
“The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has put many of our constituents and stakeholders at terrible risk of significant personal and/or economic harm. Our response has been to really focus on supportive marketing and any other way we can champion their businesses. One example is how Visit Berkeley arranged for and delivered more than 29,000 face masks and 170 gallons of hand sanitizer to Berkeley hotels this summer in an initiative made possible by our membership in the California Hotel and Lodging Association. With Berkeley hotels now open for leisure travel per city and Alameda County guidelines, the PPE will help to minimize hotel staff exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
 
The Berkeley Visitor Information Center has been closed since mid-March. This was the go-to resource for travelers and locals alike to get the latest information and literature - our pivot here was to open a Live Chat window on our home page, open during business hours, that is staffed by Visit Berkeley employees.”
 
How the BLM movement has affected Visit Berkeley
 
“Black Lives Matter is a movement that we all actively support 100% with all our hearts. Berkeley is such a progressive and diverse place, we've always considered it a given that 'everyone is welcome,' but Black Lives Matter has raised our consciousness about how we have to actively engage with communities of color with renewed and intentional purpose.”
 
Where the pandemic has provided silver linings for the organization; what best lessons have been learned; and, what new best practices have been adopted that will remain once things return to a post-pandemic "new normal"
 
“Silver linings are still hard-won when it comes to the pandemic, unfortunately, for the travel industry. Hotels and restaurants, and their employees, are experiencing incredible economic hardship through this that really has not let up since March. But we anticipate that our stakeholder expansion to all Berkeley tourism-related businesses will not fade, and we hope to continue with our new, pandemic-borne 'Live Chat' home page feature where Visit Berkeley staff serve as virtual concierges during business hours.” 
 
How travel to Berkeley has been affected now that the pandemic has continued to be amongst us
 
“Hotel bookings are down on the order of 75% since March. We've lost restaurants like many communities around the Bay, and the ones that are hanging on have had to turn into something new. We are hopeful and doing everything we can to support them, including running two Berkeley Restaurant Weeks in the summer and fall. With hotels now open for leisure travel, we are launching a new campaign ‘Explore Berkeley 3D’, to support them.”
 
#BRWToGo ran for two weeks in May and September 2020 to support Berkeley restaurants. Photo courtesy Visit Berkeley.
 
Personal experience and perspectives during this pandemic
 
Jeff: “Simple picnics with good food and drinks are something I never thought I’d look forward to. I’ve taken the time to explore parks across Berkeley and have fallen in love again with my city and how green it is. Large 'attractions' pale in comparison to the natural beauty of the Bay Area, and I look forward to being more in touch with our amazing outdoors!”
 
Dan: “I've learned that working from home all the time is far from ideal but working at home a little isn't all bad.  And in its absence, I've come to appreciate how important travel really is.”
 
How this pandemic will affect Visit Berkeley for the long term
 
“It will expand the definition of what and who is a Visit Berkeley stakeholder. We already have become much more of a resource for Berkeley restaurants and retail establishments through campaigns to promote outdoor dining and 'what's open in Berkeley' initiatives. There will be no retreat from our support of what makes Berkeley an iconic and diverse destination.”
 
How BART Marketing best supports your organization
 
“When we return and reopen, help us to reach travelers coming to town via OAK (Oakland International Airport) and BART, and promote Berkeley campaigns in stations and train cars throughout the BART network! One thing we could really use some help with is letting people know about our Live Chat feature on our home page.”
 
Hopes for 2021
 
“We hope that personal travel comes roaring back in 2021. Travel is an essential human aspiration. Even planning travel is proven to lift your spirit, and that can start right away.”
 
As Bay Area cities and counties continue to slowly re-open, we can look forward to good things opening back up in Berkeley. We’ve learned while being under shelter-in-place that strength and support is out there and from that good ideas can be brought to life. Following CDC guidelines, visit soon to experience it and enjoy for yourself!
 

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