Challenge for Manteca is to tap into spending power of 500,000 annual Great Wolf guests

BY DENNIS WYATT
Now that the walls are starting to go up on the $180 million Great Wolf indoor waterpark resort and 500-room hotel in Manteca the next challenge is for city leaders to come up with a way to coax more visitors’ dollars from the projected 500,000 annual visitors.

Most of those visitors who are expected to come from the Bay Area with median households double that of families that reside in Manteca.

Manteca Economic Development Manager Don Smail told the City Council last week finding a way to promote other attractions in and around the city is a high priority. It also something that the city agreed to do as part of the deal that brought the resort to Manteca that will provide 500 jobs when it opens in mid-2020 along the 120 Bypass just west of Costco.

The recently approved wayfinding signs are just a part of the puzzle the city needs to piece together in the coming 13 months.

Done right, the city can parlay the 500,000 annual visitors into an economic wave that could help rise local businesses including other Manteca hotels.

That’s because Great Wolf is building 10,000 square feet of meeting rooms and conference space plus a 5,000-square-footan outdoor pavilion for cheer and dance competitions and similar events.

Great Wolf included the meeting space primarily at the insistence from city officials who would have liked to have seen double the space. The resort chain has success in attracting conference-style business but that is not their primarily bailiwick.

How effective a local effort is at helping book not just the event space as well as luring Great Wolf visitors to other attractions is an un-mined economic vein that has the ability to create a ripple effect in the local economy plus job generation as well as hotel room tax beyond the $2 million that is expected to flow into Manteca’s municipal coffers as the city’s annual share after the first full year of operation. That’s because in other markets Great Wolf representatives noted a large chunk of those attending meetings, events or conferences at their resorts don’t book rooms at the hotel, instead opting for other nearby lodging.

At the same time Great Wolf corporate representatives have repeatedly noted during presentations in Manteca that guests do not spend all of their time during their stay at the resorts. Even though Great Wolf will have restaurants and non-waterpark diversions that the general public can also access, guests often will seek off-site dining options, unique shopping, and entertainment venues.

It opens the door to promote everything from Bass Pro Shops, AMC Showplace 16 Theaters, Delicato Vineyards, Manteca Bowl, and the municipal golf course to niche dining options and other shopping. There is also a market that Manteca could tap into by encouraging those on more of an extended vacation visiting Northern California to tie a stay at the Great Wolf Resort in to trips to Yosemite, the Sierra, San Francisco and elsewhere.

Great Wolf is also providing Manteca with a “name recognition” campaign that will make the impact of the former TV and radio ad blitzes of Manteca Waterslides and Manteca Trailer pale in comparison. Great Wolf representatives have indicated they will spend millions of dollars annually promoting the resort with Manteca being prominently used in all advertising.

That said its biggest contribution is not only providing Manteca with the biggest hotel in the Great Central Valley with 500 rooms but the biggest resort.

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead, who was the former executive director of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, noted the now defunct Manteca Convention & Visitors Bureau was not successful at promoting Manteca visits because “we didn’t have anything here.”
“Now we do,” Moorhead said in reference to Great Wolf.

The chamber served as an incubator for the CVB before it broke off as a free-standing non-profit. Initially the CVB worked with local hotels to place visitors’ guides in rooms as well as have welcome packets for visitors with coupons to local dining spots as well as businesses.

In its early years the CVB that was at the time overseen by former Mayor Steve DeBrum who served as president of the board, identified a market for corporations and organization that had employees or members in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and enjoying communities as well as Fresno that wanted a central location with easy access for meetings and gatherings.

The CVB tried to push that angle and was able to generate interest and some bookings but ran into issues concerning available — and adequately sized — space with support facilities such as on-site kitchens for meal service. The construction of 10,000 square feet of meeting/conference space and the 5,000 outdoor pavilion-style events center would provide a way to lure such business to Manteca given is within 60 to 80 miles of San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

Smail indicated that one way to go about putting together a visitors’ bureau of sorts is to encourage local hotels to do it on their own. The city could also work with the chamber to come up with a solution.

In the past the city dipped into hotel room tax — as much as $70,000 a year — to help fund the CVB. They yanked the funding three years ago after the CVB backed off on its efforts and wasn’t even maintaining a robust and up-to-date website for those interested in visiting Manteca to access to find out information about local attractions, events, dining, lodging, and nearby destinations of interest they could combine with an overnight stay in Manteca.