A seven-year chapter is closing for one Calaveras County resident who saw a great deal of success.
Lisa Boulton, the Calaveras Visitors Bureau executive director, is stepping down from her post of seven years. She leaves the bureau with a highly trafficked website and an extensive network among local businesses, county officials and visitors, along with millions of dollars in annual funding for the county and a diverse cultural breeding ground for recreation, food and entertainment opportunities. Now that she’s laid the groundwork for sustaining a thriving tourist industry in Calaveras County, Boulton is ready for the next chapter.
“This has been my life for seven years,” the England native said in her office last week, her eyes thoughtfully scanning the room. “I’ve been completely dedicated to it. Knowing it’s my last couple days, it’s a little strange.”
Tucked away on the corner of Main Street and Hardscrabble Road in Angels Camp, the Calaveras Visitors Bureau has made a substantial contribution to the county over the past seven years. In her last presentation to county supervisors on June 25, Boulton shared the results of a Return-on-Investment study indicating that for every dollar the nonprofit spends on marketing, the county makes about $56. It brought in $25 million in 2018 – a number that has risen by about 5% each year for the past five years.
Once a regular Calaveras County tourist herself, Boulton, pregnant with her second son, moved to the county from the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s.
“We had a timeshare at Mountain Retreat in Arnold and we vacationed here for 11 years every year, wishing we could move up and stay here in this beautiful place,” Boulton said.
She left a job in the tech industry to take on a marketing director position at Cave and Mine Adventures, where she would spend the next 13 years falling in love with destination marketing and learning the ins and outs of website design.
“You can put your heart and soul into marketing a destination like this,” Boulton said of Calaveras County. “The Bay Area is great, but so many people have made the transition from the Bay Area to Calaveras – I think they understand the attraction. It’s an amazing environment, and you feel really good living here because you’re in this beautiful air and you have this clean, lovely water. Being able to see all of those stars at night, being able to go on hikes in the gorgeous Sierra … it was everything I wanted to bring my boys up in.”
Although the Calaveras Visitors Bureau doesn’t know the percentage of Calaveras residents that were retained through tourism opportunities, Boulton thinks it’s a pretty high proportion.
“Once people experience Calaveras they are motivated to find a way to live here very often … The friendly welcoming attitude of Calaveras, that is not across the board everywhere, so it really is something to be celebrated,” she said. “Besides all the amazing outdoor recreation, cute Gold Rush towns and all the tremendous history, it’s the people that make Calaveras amazing. I have people popping in all the time to sit down and have a chat. I love being able to connect people that have a business idea with people that have a similar idea and getting them to collaborate. I think that’s the best part, being able to help and just enjoying all of the personalities that come through here.”
For Boulton, tourism is about community, first and foremost.
“There’s nothing you can do in destination marketing that’s going to be successful if you don’t involve the community,” Boulton said.
Calaveras County’s suite of exclusive “hidden gem” experiences makes it a hot spot for visitors from far and wide. Those out-of-the-norm experiences have been trending in the tourism industry over the past five years, and Boulton’s been paying attention.
“In the past, even VisitCalifornia (a statewide destination advertiser) would show that the biggest tourist attractions were all those really well-known attractions, but now we’re seeing that people like to go into those rural destinations where they can find hidden gems,” Boulton said. “Definitely glamping (glamorous camping) is trending as well, and then just anything that’s really authentic, hand curated, handmade, artisanal or anything about rural local community. That is what’s attracting people to rural locations.”
Although tourism advertisements may be filling local bars with rowdy out-of-towners and congesting the highways with traffic on holiday weekends, Boulton feels the benefits to the area vastly outweigh the impacts.
“Twenty years ago, Murphys was not the bustling tourist destination that it is now, and some people may not like how many tourists are coming in, but we have amazing restaurants that we did not have 20 years ago,” Boulton said. “We have world-class theater directors doing Shakespeare on the Vine in Brice Station Vineyards. All these people have been attracted to the area initially as a tourism destination, and then they come in and bring their amazing skills and enhance what’s available to the locals here … so the tourists have brought some good stuff too, besides just contributing to the economy, especially those that decide to relocate and bring up their families here.”
A passion sparked in Boulton’s eyes as she spoke about the time and energy she’s poured into designing gocalaveras.com, the bureau’s primary advertising medium.
“The website was my baby,” she said.
Boulton also said she was proud to have been able to move the organization to a partnership model rather than a membership model, as it allows the bureau to market the entire county, rather than just the investing partners.
With Boulton leaving, the bureau rests in the hands of Martin Huberty, the new director, and an “outstanding team” that Boulton has pulled together during her time there.
A U.S. resident for the past 30 years, Boulton is headed back to her roots in Kent, England, to support her family.
“It’ll be a huge change, but I’m really looking forward to it,” Boulton said. “It’s going home for me. I mean this is home for me, too. It’s tough … It’ll be nice to be able to pop in and have a cup of coffee with my mom and take her on shopping trips.”
As for her next endeavor, Boulton hopes to take her marketing skills and apply them to a humanitarian cause.
“This has been very rewarding, too, because I’m supporting and helping to build up the business community, but I really want to do some work that is helping people that are struggling, people that have problems in their lives that they need help with. I really want to do something really beneficial.”