Benicia Looks Back on Tourism Marketing Successes, After a Challenging Year

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With the onset of COVID-19 last March, the waterfront city of Benicia, California needed to totally reconceive its tourism marketing strategy for the summer and holiday season. Benicia is a charming jewel of the San Francisco Bay Area, but it has historically been popular with visitors because of its public events, shopping, and indoor dining -- attractions which were problematic during the pandemic.

New Escape by the Bay campaign logo

With the onset of COVID-19 last March, the waterfront city of Benicia, California needed to totally reconceive its tourism marketing strategy for the summer and holiday season. Benicia is a charming jewel of the San Francisco Bay Area, but it has historically been popular with visitors because of its public events, shopping, and indoor dining -- attractions which were problematic during the pandemic.

The city turned to its marketing firm, Creative Digital Agency, to forge a new path forward for the remainder of the year.

Reinventing Summer In Benicia

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the tourism industry,” says Kevin Almeida, Managing Director of CDA. “With Benicia, we had to essentially scrap our plan for the year and start over. We looked at the data and refocused on the things our audience was crying out for: day trips, outdoor leisure activities, and safe ways to relax and escape the stresses of the year.”

Luckily, Benicia was a prime candidate to offer visitors an escape. CDA worked with the city to launch the “Great Escape By the Bay” campaign, which emphasized a variety of day trip itineraries that promoted mental and physical health while incorporating safe shopping & dining agendas to continue driving revenue for small, locally-owned businesses.

The campaign required a rapid turnaround to launch across multiple channels:

  • A new website for the campaign (http://www.EscapeByTheBay.com)
  • Media relations and PR, bringing travel writers/bloggers and local social media influencers like Kris Hui into the city to enjoy the different day trips offered.
  • Multi-channel paid media, encompassing local TV, email, billboards, digital media, and print advertising in Diablo magazine
  • Multimedia production, including content for TV, print, and web showcasing a safe COVID-19 visitor experience

“We appreciate CDA being able to adapt so quickly to everything that happened,” says Teri Davena, Economic Development Specialist for Benicia. “We were able to respond to the crisis faster than just about any other destination, mitigating the hit to tourism revenue for the City.”

The campaign drove a huge upswing in earned media coverage, especially for a year when large public events were cancelled. Benicia was covered by Visit California, the SF Chronicle, Mercury News, and even got a shoutout on Live With Kelly and Ryan.

Further, the city’s social media engagement and new follower acquisition rate increased by several hundred percent across Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Holiday Shopping

In the winter, after the devastating California wildfires had subsided, Benicia business owners were looking forward to relaxing COVID-19 restrictions to help bring in seasonal holiday shoppers -- but the Winter surge across the country necessitated another rapid shift in focus.

CDA worked with the city to launch Shop Benicia, a new citywide eGift card program that incentivized shoppers to support small local businesses during the pandemic by purchasing online gift cards which could be redeemed at any participating business in the city.

The Shop Benicia launch was an enormous success, with the City’s initial promotional offer selling out in the first two weeks and local media like ABC7 News picking up the story.

“Shop Benicia lets small business owners compete with the sort of gift card programs offered by mega-retailers,” says Mario Giuliani, Economic Development Manager for Benicia. “Part of what makes Benicia so special is our one-of-a-kind shopping experience. All our downtown businesses are locally-owned and unique -- no chain stores or franchises to speak of. This program rewards people for supporting the incredible shops, restaurants, art galleries, salons & spas that make up the heart and soul of our community.”

Approaching the New Year

Moving into 2021, CDA and Benicia expect they’ll need to remain agile.

“We’ve got some exciting things coming up,” says Almeida, “furthering Benicia’s digital transformation in regards to added convenience to shopping and the visitor experience. But if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that destination marketers need to be ready to change at a moment’s notice. We’re just one week into the new year and I think it’s fair to say there’s nothing ‘normal’ about 2021.”

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Barbie Chiu
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