The Oakland, California tourist board is rolling out a campaign in the UK whereby visitors whose travel agent books direct with hotels will receive a free, pre-loaded Clipper Card – Oakland’s version of Oyster – so they can explore the Bay Area for free.
Oakland was recently selected by National Geographic as one of the 28 best places to visit in the world in the “Culture” category – the only destination in the western hemisphere to be chosen for culture.
According to Mark Everton, president and CEO of Visit Oakland, herein lies its appeal. “You wouldn’t normally think of an urban city that’s sort of tertiary to San Francisco to be recognised in that way, but it has an amazing amount of culture inherent in the city – it’s where the Black Panther organisation originated, and it’s also where a lot of the Burning Man sculptures and artists are. Even though Burning Man is in the Nevada desert, a lot of the artwork is created in Oakland.”
The city is consistently ranked as one of the most diverse in America. Just 25 minutes by transit from San Francisco, Everton says it’s a great place to homebase and access both California’s wine country and its coastline.
In terms of culture, Oakland launched its Black Joy Parade a few years ago – a celebration of black culture – and it hosts a large Pride celebration every October.
“It’s perfect for the urban experience traveller,” said Everton. “We recently surveyed people staying in San Francisco, and the primary reason for people staying there is that it’s close to tourist attractions, while when we asked the same question to people staying in Oakland, they said they stay there because it’s not close to a tourist attraction. It highlights tourists versus travellers.”
Oakland welcomes around 4 million travellers each year who spend approximately $1 billion in the city. One in seven jobs here are supported by tourism. Visit Oakland is targeting a 5 per cent growth next year on visitor numbers, and it has seen substantial growth from the UK market. “We saw about a 15 per cent increase initially in 2017 but a 12 per cent increase in 2018. We’re hoping to have that same figure, although it’s a bit of a challenge as the dollar continues to get stronger,” said Everton.