The unthinkable can happen anywhere. Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta proved that when she took the stage at Destinations International’s 2018 Annual Convention Imagine in Anaheim this week. She polled the audience of destination marketers, and an overwhelming majority indicated with a show of hands that they had managed through a natural disaster in their careers.
Regardless of the tragedy—flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake or in the case Beteta outlined, massive fires in California’s wine country—the challenges are similar and the reaction has to go through three distinct stages. She listed them as prepare, manage and recover—all while keeping other programs going. “You can substitute in whatever the disaster happens to be, but at some point, you have to transition the message from the nightmare images that dominate the news cycle to the message that you are open for business, strong and back better than ever,” she said.
To make that transition to telling the story that most of the tourism infrastructure is still in place after weeks of images portrayed around the country of burning buildings, Beteta reached out to local agencies and nonprofits, and held community forums. She also called on celebrity chef and California native Tyler Florence, who moved to the state from New York in 2006 and fell in love with the area.
Florence had lived through the 9/11 attacks in New York City in 2001 and knew the heroic efforts first responders made, and was eager to help. “Firefighters were working long hours, risking their lives, sleeping in the ashes. I wanted to welcome them back with a warm meal,” he said from the stage.
The result was The Grateful Table, a meal served by a host of celebrity chefs to 508 first responders, residents, winemakers and influencers two days before thanksgiving at one long table in the vineyard at Domaine Chandon, on the line between Sonoma and Napa counties in California’s wine country. It was a fundraiser for wildfire relief, but it was also a statement about the enduring beauty and spirit of the hospitality industry. Two other benefit concerts featuring acts such as Red Hot Chili Peppers had already raised $25 million. The Grateful Table, which is the subject of an upcoming documentary called Uncrushable, continued that effort and showed the power of a community when people come together.
Florence praised the tourism industry for working quickly to transition to a story about the human spirit. “It is time to celebrate what have and show the community that we support them,” he said.
At the event, fellow The Grateful Table chef Chris Cosentino reflected on his experience at Acacia House, the restaurant he co-owns in Las Alcobas Napa Valley, in St. Helena, where he opened the restaurant to those in need during the crises. He stressed the importance of getting the message out that Napa is still there and still amazing. “Don’t cancel your reservations. Come out for a trip. Enjoy yourself. Spend some time—get out here,” he said.