The Future Farmers of America are onto something.
In the closing days of this year’s California state FFA convention, organizers dropped a bomb on 23-year-host Fresno: the training ground for California’s farmers is packing up and moving its convention to Anaheim in 2018.
Fresnans, rightfully, are shocked. Whether you stick with the Greater Fresno metro area, the Fresno-Visalia media market, or any other geographic marker, Fresno serves as California’s agricultural anchor, regularly serving as the highest ag production.
So how can a convention of future farmers skip over California’s agricultural bedrock?
Easy. To paraphrase James Carville: the hotels, stupid.
The initial reaction to the news drummed up drove City Hall to strike up a partnership with Fresno State to entice FFA to keep their convention in Fresno. The university is offering up its vast facilities – including the Save Mart Center – for use by the booming student training group.
On KMJ yesterday afternoon, Fresno State president Dr. Joseph Castro said that FFA organizers had largely shrugged off the offer, citing their favoritism for Selland Arena downtown.
Why? Because it sits directly across from the DoubleTree Hotel along M Street.
This isn’t the first time I’ve pointed out Fresno’s shortcomings when it comes to the travel economy. In 2014, the San Francisco Giants told the City and the Fresno Grizzlies to pound sand as they ended a 17-year affiliation and moved their Triple-A organization to Sacramento.
There were a myriad of reasons why the Giants made the move. Chief among the reasons cited by the ball club was the absolute nightmare of calling up players and having them fly to San Francisco from Fresno on a whim.
The hand wringing over FFA’s desertion from Fresno is eerily reminiscent of 2014. Fresno was caught completely off-guard and brought a Costco-sized pallets of duct tape in the hopes of fixing the problem.
Of course, Fresno’s airport is still seeing modest ridership gains. But local travelers are still sticking with the tried and true method of driving to another major airport in California for personal and business travel, largely due to lack of options and carriers, and the highest ticket prices in the Golden State.
Meanwhile, Fresno does not boast a single marquee hotel in the entire metro area. We have no standard Marriott, Hilton, or Hyatt. No, this is the shining city reliant on Springhill Suites.
And with budget hotels peppered across the Fresno-Clovis landscape, it should come as no surprise that it is difficult to land or even keep mid-size conventions in our City.
The FFA, business travelers, and other convention organizers, are looking for the same three things: convenience, access, and cost.
With that in mind, only one hotel fits the bill for Fresno’s convention center: the DoubleTree. And while it is arguably the largest hotel in Fresno, it can’t possibly accommodate many, or even most, conventioneers traveling to our fair city.
Sending 7,000 travelers to hotels spanning north Fresno, downtown, and Clovis was a recipe for this kind of sobering headline.
More importantly, it also demands putting Fresno’s travel economy – from hotels to flights – on the City’s economic development punch list. It’s the only move that will stanch the bleeding from lost opportunities like this one.