By January 16, 2020 0 Comments Read More →

InterView – Todd Aaronson – Visit Modesto

By Chris Murphy

Modesto Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s Todd Aaronson

If you’re reading this, you already are pretty darn passionate about Modesto. You are proud of our culture and history; be it innovations in agriculture or irrigation, the awesome graffiti car culture or as home to great companies like E&J Gallo, the rockabilly underbelly we cherish or our incredible symphony, the family oriented neighborhoods or the genuine warmth of our people. Yet how do we want the rest of the world know about us? There are conventioneers, sales/business travelers, tour groups in buses, sports teams and even weary travelers on 99, 120, 132 or the 5 who all visit can Visit Modesto.

In 2018 the City of Modesto chose to reboot and relaunch Visit Modesto. In July of 2019 Visit Modesto became independent again with a new visitors center at 1008 12th Street (between J & K), some new team members and keen focus on sharing the bounties of our community. Tourism includes film crews, business conferences, tour groups from abroad, travelers to/from Yosemite and more. They all need information about where to stay, where to eat, where to visit, what’s playing, what gallery is open, what car show is happening and how to get there. That’s where Visit Modesto comes in.

The new team, lead by CEO Todd Aaronson, is hard at work rebuilding the social, digital and marketing strategy to meet the information flow of 2020 and beyond. The new Visitors Center is a restored mid-century modern building that is warm and welcoming to locals and visitors alike. Todd’s background is steeped in the hospitality industry (Westin, Fairmont, Ritz Carlton) and he’s been marketing destinations throughout the nation as an independent marketer. His plans include how our community insures the visitor experience matches the promise of the marketing message. Todd’s wife Sarah is also in the event and experience planning industry and they live walking distance from downtown Modesto (Todd walks to work most days!). Let’s meet Todd.

ModestoView: You are a long time Modestan and are part of a long time Modesto family, how has this helped in your new role at the CVB?

Todd Aaronson: My wife’s family has been here for over 120 years. Understanding the history of our community, the natural culture, the legacy families/businesses and embracing the 21st Century needs of travelers help me and my team create a plan to grow visitor presence in Modesto.

MV: What were some of the challenges you had to overcome in rebuilding the CVB?
TA: Having a robust social media presence requires a solid website. First we have to rebuild the website that has not been updated for years – we need to be found on mobile devices were over 70% of all travel search is conducted. Looking forward, not backward, is truly the greatest challenge. How travelers and planners make decisions about where to stay and go in the 2020’s is significantly different than 5 years ago or 35 years ago. Helping our community stakeholders understand the value of tourism and how we present our community assets in a contemporary fashion is at the forefront of our strategy.

MV: Why do you think Modesto gets such a bad shake in the outside world?
TA: Surprisingly we, the citizens of Modesto, are the ones who perpetuate that image. Think about it;
We have the best weather in the nation; no humidity, no bugs, never shovel the driveway in the winter. We have 300+ days of great weather (so it gets hot for 15-20 days year – that’s what makes the peaches so sweet!) Our agriculture is off the hook. Peaches, Pluots, Apricots, Strawberries, Almonds, Grapes… shall I go on? I’ve lived all over the country and there’s no place that has the fresh bounties like Modesto. We have kids who graduate our schools who go to Harvard, Princeton and MJC. We have vocational schools that train Modestans to fix everything from the HVAC in your home to the HVAC of a 1M sf warehouse. We are tops in the nation for National Night Out events and our Porchfest draws crowds from miles away.

We need to respond to every negative comment with one great thing about Modesto after another until we all have a dozen or more great things to share about Modesto!

MV: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for Modesto?
TA: Honestly, we need to stop looking in the rearview mirror. No one ever saved their way to innovation. We need to look at our community and invest in the physical assets, invest in our cultural assets, invest in our people, invest in our digital/social presence, invest in education, invest in beautification. I believe we should look at our future as if Modesto is a startup and march forward with a clear vision of embracing the future while honoring our cultural and agricultural heritage.

MV: This year, ModestoView did a feature on our amazing location in proximity to San Francisco and Yosemite; what kind of opportunity this presents to Modesto?
TA: I was interviewed by Yosemite Magazine and they ran a great story about Modesto that says it well in the opening, “Stop in Modesto, half way between Yosemite and San Francisco, for a much-needed break from the car and grab a bite to eat, visit a farm stand or see a show.” Modesto should be the “home base” on everyone’s radar who is considering a northern California trip that includes San Francisco, Yosemite and Sacramento.

MV: What is the value of a 3% increase in our travel and tourism?
TA: Dean Runyan Associates recently completed a study that displayed county tourism as providing over 6,400 jobs, $620M in spending and over $54M in local taxes. Figure 3% growth alone provides 200 jobs, $2M to local businesses and $1.6M in tax revenue. That supports our families, our schools, our roads and much more.

MV: Describe some of the plans being made for to re-launch the CVB during Modesto’s 150th Anniversary ?
TA: Visit Modesto is excited about a few specific programs to promote; there’s a 150 Murals group we can promote for walking/photo tours, there’s a history tour being developed we can promote, we are working with a group to create 150 music events in one weekend just in downtown and more in the planning. Our marketing executive, Andres Mendez, is working with the city and local community to promote all the events that support Modesto 150 in the social and digital media.

MV: Do you see that we have some really obvious assets that are attractive to the traveling public?
TA: Location, Location, Location – we are truly at the heart of traveling North-South and East-West in California. Our agricultural bounty truly is ‘low hanging fruit’ and travelers should know to stop here and enjoy. Price Value – Modesto is so affordable. Our hotels offer incredible value with fantastic amenities. Our robust dining scene is not expensive plus the variety and quality of cuisine is incredible.
Quality – did you know the Chevron station just off 99 on Kansas cleans the pumps, mops the pavement in front of the pumps and more at least 3 times a day? That’s the kind of quality our community offers travelers. Those types of examples are what display the humble pride of Modestans when presenting our businesses to guests. We need to promote the “little things” that make us great!

MV: What fires you up about this opportunity ?
TA: We can only grow our visitor/tourism. That means we provide more jobs, which benefits the families of our community. That means more tax revenue to build on our assets. I get fired up thinking of the benefit Modesto and Modestans will receive as we grow our visitor base!

MV: Describe your ideal Modesto day.
TA: Morning jog on tree lined streets and down the Virginia Trail
Coffee before work at any one of the great local shops
Meet with at least one ‘new’ Modestan per day to learn about their perspective of our community
Our staff shares a quote of the day – that’s always something I enjoy!
Grab a webinar to learn something
Eat local – try to hit a farmstand for something fresh to take home
Have a soft drink or cocktail and hear some great local musician(s) complete my day with music. No day is complete without good music!

MV: Beatles or Stones
TA :That’s mean! Beatles to chill or drive, Stones to get the party started!

Visit Modesto
1008 12th St. Modesto CA 95354

Posted in: community, featured, news

About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.