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Through Startup in Residence, Napa Wants to Personalize the Tourism Experience

The city is already an international draw. Now it wants to focus on experience.

Plenty of people already visit California's Napa Valley, north of the San Francisco Bay Area. They come for the wine. They come for the food. They come for the scenery.

But the city wants to add a little layer on top of all that: a tech-enabled, personalized experience much like what the tech giants of San Francisco and Silicon Valley have already made commonplace in visitors’ lives.

That’s the idea the city is carrying with it as it participates in Startup in Residence (STiR) — a program that pairs up startups with governments to come up with new solutions to problems — for the first time. Peter Pirnejad, Napa’s assistant city manager, said the goal is to promote tourism anchored within the city of Napa, specifically.

Because it’s the whole valley that draws tourists, not necessarily the city itself.

“The city of Napa hasn’t always been a destination in the Napa Valley,” Pirnejad said. “And the distinction in the Napa Valley is that there are towns people would normally go to: Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville.”

People have started coming to the city of Napa more in the last 15 years, he said. Working for the city, Pirnejad wants to emphasize Napa as a place for tourists to set up their home base as they go out and explore the valley.

He thinks technology can bolster that effort by making existing information more dynamic and accessible.

“You walk into your hotel room and there’s a brochure about Napa, but the information is as old as the last publication,” he said.

But what if the listings in the pamphlet were available on a person’s smartphone? And what if a program could tailor listings to a person’s specific interests?

“What can we do to give that person not a transaction when they get here, but an experience when they get here?” he said.

So technology could direct them to different parts of the valley that have more of that person’s favorite wine.

Or, as they walk around Napa, the city could use geolocation to tell a person which wines are available at the tasting room across the street. Or it could give them a short write-up about the historic building they’re approaching. Or it could send them specials at a nearby restaurant. Or it could tell them about something interesting a couple streets off the beaten path.

“It’s a great way to kind of put everything in one place to help the tourists experience all there is to experience in our town,” he said.

It doesn’t appear to be an idea many people have explored, according to Pirnejad. But that’s more or less the point of STiR — it puts people together in a room to do new things.

“We haven’t found too many people who have done this,” Pirnejad said. “The closest would be like a 311 app, where it’s more of a CRM and people will report potholes or graffiti.”

It’s CRM-like in the sense that those kinds of programs set up profiles of people and then allow an organization to track interactions. Businesses use it all the time — think Salesforce — but people are starting to run with the core concept in creative ways to solve government problems.

The startup RideAlong is using the concept to help emergency responders improve the interactions they have with people who have mental illnesses. ZenCity uses the idea to map citizen sentiment in different neighborhoods. GovRock coordinates volunteer efforts for local government programs, creating a list of civically engaged people who can hopefully later respond when a disaster strikes.

Those three companies have all participated in STiR. So now Pirnejad wants to turn the same process in Napa’s direction.

“We may not know all the answers, we may not even know all the questions yet, but we can run a pilot, we can test, we can iterate, we can pivot and then we can run another pilot,” he said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.