Attracting International Brands to Your Destination, with Mike Testa

Episode 239

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Mike Testa is the President and CEO of Visit Sacramento & the Sacramento Sports Commission, leading a team dedicated to promoting Sacramento as an attractive travel destination while enhancing Sacramentos image as a dynamic place to live and work. Through the impact of travel, Mike and his team strengthen Sacramento’s economic position, grow the region’s economy, attract development investment, and improve the quality of life for the people who call Sacramento home.

In just three years as the CEO of Visit Sacramento, Mike has generated new streams of visitors to the region by investing in and promoting Sacramento’s arts community and creating and expanding music and food festivals. He has also focused on growing and securing new and diverse sporting events and advocating for, and ultimately securing, the expansion of the Sacramento Convention Center.

Visit California Travel & Tourism data shows that Mike’s vision of diversifying Sacramento’s visitor platform is working. In 2019, Sacramento generated record revenues from tourism, as visitors spent more than $3 billion into the regional economy. In 2021, Visit Sacramento will help further elevate the Aftershock Music Festival (the largest hard rock festival on the West Coast) into a four-day, 120,000-person music event. Later that same month, Sacramento will host its first Ironman competition.

Through Mike’s vision, commitment to community collaboration, and consistent innovation, Sacramentos identity has evolved from a sleepy State Capital to a relevant food destination, recognized nationally as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. Through creating the Tower Bridge Dinner and events like the Farm-to-Fork Festival, Mike’s ability to see Sacramento’s heritage and reimagine its identity as a food and agriculture leader has brought millions of dollars in revenue to local businesses national earned media to Sacramento.

Additionally, Mike Testa is responsible for initiating and creating the relationship with the Paris-based Michelin Guide to generate a California dining guide that spotlighted 14 of Sacramento’s restaurants and earned the city its first Michelin-starred restaurant in its inaugural year of publication.

Mike is a graduate of St. Mary’s College and has spent his career promoting, connecting, and developing relationships to elevate organizational goals. As an expert communicator and seasoned destination marketing executive, he is highly sought after to speak at CEO forums, participate in panel discussions, serve as an event emcee, and facilitate conversations around marketing, tourism development, and community economic creation and development.

Mike is also widely known as a thought leader in economic development through festivals and events. In 2017 he was hand-picked to participate in a panel discussion at Austins SXSW about building successful special events and the intricate components of forming relationships between host cities and festival producers.

In 2008, Mike was named as a ‘40 under 40 leader’ and in 2014 was awarded the Vibe Award from the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which recognized ‘Visionary Innovators in Building Excellence.’ He is active on the boards of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, Sacramento Zoo, Midtown Association, and Downtown Sacramento Partnership. Mike is an educator and enjoys sharing his knowledge as a former media relations instructor for the Western Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus and the UC Davis Extension.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Mike Testa, who shares his passion for the city of Sacramento and details how Visit Sacramento built a brand as the Farm-to-Fork capital of America. We discuss Sacramento’s challenges as a city in California, where there are many bucket list cities, and creative ways his team has carved out positioning that Sacramento can own. Mike also highlights how his organization has creatively collaborated to successfully produce events for the city that are now attracting a vast number of visitors every year.

What You Will Learn:

  • All the exciting events that Visit Sacramento has created with its partners to attract visitors to the city, including the Farm-to-Fork Festival
  • Why Mike focuses on building a brand to seek out national and international opportunities, including their collaboration with the Michelin Guides
  • Visit Sacramento’s creative plans for the future and how the COVID-19 pandemic has made them reflect on how they attract visitors to the city
  • Why it’s so critical to build partnerships during challenging times
  • How Mike approaches destination marketing within the local community

Leadership in Adversity

In times of adversity, we often see that team members find the strength and confidence to step up to lead and are keen to take on challenges that benefit the whole community. Mike’s leadership skills are shaped by his previous experience in a wide range of roles in marketing and community relationship development, and he fosters that ethos in his team. Mike also shares his insights on connecting with organizations in your area and why building deeper bonds ultimately helps you move forward to achieve your goals.

Partnership Events

With the Farm-to-Fork initiative, Mike and Visit Sacramento designed a 360-degree celebration of what the region had to offer and worked hard to get community and local media buy-in to the event, which has subsequently gone from strength to strength. Mike shares the most significant lessons he learned from building the festival gradually and candidly describes some of the valuable partnerships and collaborations they rely on to attract visitors to their destination.

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