There’s a buzz around town these days. With the recent surge of new restaurants, an established and diverse music scene, and the new moniker of “maker mecca,” Oakland is increasingly on the national cultural radar. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the New York Times took notice in 2012 when it ranked Oakland the #5 top travel destination for that year.

Despite the hype, Oakland still has the most underfunded visitors bureau in the Bay Area. “Oakland is an exciting place to be right now,” said Kelly Kofki of the Oakland Museum of California. But, she points out, “we suffer from perceptions.”

Indeed, Young Strategies Inc identified the city’s crime-ridden, graffiti-laden image as a hinderance to increasing Oakland’s tourism dollars in an in-depth market research report for Visit Oakland, the city’s tourism bureau. The private firm surveyed local leaders, ordinary residents, and visitors alike.

Oakland locals tended to use words like, “diverse, great, beautiful” to describe their town. The most common words from visitors also included words like “diverse” and “fun,” but “unsafe” and “dangerous” loomed just as large as “exciting” and “interesting.”

Surveying 702 visitors, the Young Strategies, Inc report provides very interesting insights into the motivations and habits of the travelers that come through the city.

According to the study, the majority of Oakland’s overnight visitors are between the ages of 32-70, with approximately 35 percent of visitors being 32-52 years old, or Generation X, and another 35 percent Baby Boomers, ages 53-70. Millennials, ages 13-31, account for another 20 percent of visitors. However, they are slightly more likely to visit for leisure than other age groups, with 66 percent of Millennials visiting for leisure compared to about 59 percent of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

Interestingly, most Millennial visitors (71 percent) only come for a day trip, whereas Gen Xers and Baby Boomers tend to stay overnight in Oakland. Overnight visits account for 56 percent and 71 percent of the age group visitors, respectively. When compared to those who visit for business, conferences, or a day trip, leisure travelers spend significantly more on average, shelling out about $1,288 per visitor party.

SunnySideNow Visit Oakland is using this data to inform their national and international outreach. With a new leadership team, additional staff, a revamped website, and a brand-spanking-new visitors center located in Jack London Square, Visit Oakland has a veritable arsenal to combat the image of the city.

What we’re talking about here is, “a rebranding of Oakland, not as a destination, but literally as a city,” said Kim Bardakian, Director of Public Relations and Partnerships at Visit Oakland. She explains that Oakland is a uniquely affordable, centrally located destination for Bay Area visitors who also want to experience San Francisco, wine country, or any of the other enticing destinations within a few hours drive from Oakland.

In 2011, Oakland hosted an estimated 10.5 million overnight visitors, and an additional half million stayed with family and friends rather than in hotels. These 11 million people collectively spent $1 billion during their stays, and supplied the need for 11,400 jobs. With this upward trend in tourism revenue, it seems like the city’s visitors might be good news for some of Oakland’s financial woes.

Sean Maher at the Mayor’s Office is supportive of Visit Oakland’s work, but stresses that the city is focused on addressing root problems before investing more money in tourism campaigns. “The focus in terms of budget is public safety,” he said, with the bulk of new revenue going towards funding new officers and fleet vehicles. He also stressed the importance of maintaining affordable housing and family services, producing local jobs, and promoting local spending.

Overall, Maher sees, “an encouraging upswing.” Positive changes to the city’s economic indicators, such as sales tax revenue and unemployment rates, demonstrate this promising trend. With one million square feet of new or improved retail space and 60 restaurants opened in the last year alone, is Oakland poised to become the next consumer/tourist paradise of the Bay Area?

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