Butte County: We’re open

Photo courtesy of Bruce Spangler

Bruce Spangler was born and raised in Oroville, so when he was able to find a job there in his field—he started in hospitality in 2003—he was eager to return to his hometown. With a degree in zoology from Humboldt State, he fell into the hotel business because it paid the bills—and he excelled at it. He’s been general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in the City of Gold since 2011 and is currently serving as president of Explore Butte County, aka the Butte County Tourism Business Improvement District. He recently took time to talk with the CN&R about the local tourism industry, which has been impacted by the Camp Fire on two fronts—not only in the loss of attractions in the burn areas but also in the influx of houseless residents and out-of-town laborers staying in local hotels. Check explorebuttecounty.com for more.

Did the fire affect how you market our area to out-of-town visitors?

Once the Camp Fire hit, Explore Butte County had an emergency meeting. We pulled in [marketing nonprofit] Visit California, plus [local representatives], and we had a round table to discuss ideas as to what we should do at this point. We knew we had to rethink our strategy. The most important thing is to support our communities at this time. So, all of the events and festivals—in Paradise, Oroville, Chico and the surrounding areas—we will continue to highlight those. We want to remind people that Butte County is still open. But we switched our marketing focus to the drive markets rather than overnight stays. So, we’re targeting people in Sacramento and Redding, anywhere within about a two- to four-hour drive.

Are there any vacancies?

We’re starting to see, as hoteliers, that for Thursday to Sunday, occupancies are opening up. So, that means there’s availability to book leisure travel. We’re starting to have wedding blocks come in—that’s really important for Chico, spring weddings. And we’re building up to our busy season.

Chico’s expecting a new Holiday Inn Express—any updates?

We’re hoping to open there at the end of May. Unfortunately, it won’t be open before graduation, but we’re hoping by June 1. We have a Visit California trip that’s coming through [then], a group of international tour operators coming from a symposium in San Francisco who are taking a tour of the northern region of California. It’ll include an overnight stay in Chico, with a full day in Oroville, Chico and the surrounding areas. We’re excited to host something like that.

Are you seeing any new trends in the tourism industry?

People are getting back into doing road trips. Visit California is seeing that as a huge motivator. So, our next campaign will be a road trip campaign. San Francisco is a huge, prime market for us. It’s just far enough out that people want that couple-day stay. They want to get out of the city, into the open spaces, but not too far, so they don’t have to devote too much time to it.