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|City and Tourism Leaders Rub Shoulders|
By Ann K. Williams
May 11, 2011 – Tourism is big business in Santa Monica, and no one is more convinced of its value than the city leaders who joined the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau for breakfast at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel Tuesday morning.
Mayor Richard Bloom and City Manager Rod Gould shared the stage at the Second Annual Travel and Tourism Summit with spokespeople from the tourism industry who lauded the financial benefits of their industry, while sharing the latest ways to drum up more visitors.
“Tourism is a critical component to Santa Monica's economy,” said Misti Kerns, president and CEO of Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (SMCVB). “Our industry creates and supports over 10,000 jobs in Santa Monica alone, and generates over one billion dollars in city revenue.”
Gould thanked the hospitality industry both on behalf of the 6.3 million who visit the city and those who live here.
“I commend all of you in the tourism industry for making the stays of our visitors the best possible whether they're coming from Santa Barbara or Sao Paolo,” he said.
Residents come out ahead in the game as well, Gould said. Nearly $37 million in tourism taxes that flowed into Santa Monica's general fund last year played a big part in helping the city balance its budget for the next two years, he said.
Thanks to tourism revenues, residents are off the hook for thousands of dollars they'd have to pay for the kind of infrastructure they've come to expect, Gould added.
For its part, the city plans to usher in a “Renaissance” of projects that will make Santa Monica even more inviting to tourists, he said.
“Because we're so special, we must work harder to maintain what we've got,” said Gould.
The Expo line will be “knit into the urban fabric of our city,” bringing in visitors to a “gorgeous public plaza” and esplanade acting as a “wonderful entrance” into the new parks at the civic center, “an attraction in itself,” said Gould.
Improvements to the Civic Auditorium, hotel remodels – including the addition of 265 guest rooms and 99 condominiums at the Fairmont Miramar – and “the best cinematic experience you'll find in America” at the new AMC theater on 4th Street were a few of the tourism draws Gould enumerated.
Bloom took the stage to thank the tourism industry for its role in helping make the city so successful.
“We're a model for the State of California,” he said. “If what we're doing can be [expanded] statewide, think of what California can be.”
He also took a moment to thank the city's hotels for their generosity during the L.A. Marathon last March as runners risked hypothermia during the day's frigid downpour.
“It was as if the heavens opened up and the deluge started, and I expected to see Noah's Ark floating by,” Bloom said. “The hospitality industry stepped up literally on a moment's notice.
“We shared the best of Santa Monica on that day,” he said.
But the gathering wasn't just about the great things that tourism has brought the city. It was also about how to keep the ball rolling.
Reaching out to the international market was common thread of Tuesday's speeches.
“International, international, international,” SMCVB Director of Marketing Kim Baker repeated.
International tourists stay in the city longer, spend more, use more public transportation and generate more jobs than domestic visitors do, more than one speaker said.
What with the downturn in the economy, the United States has become a bargain destination – at least compared with Europe – and Australians like to go “shopping with strong dollars” here, according to a video of tourism professionals from around the world.
It turns out that recent technical innovations can either help or hinder the steady influx of tourist dollars to Santa Monica.
“With so many tools on the internet, people are not paying premium prices,” Kerns pointed out. Twenty per cent of people who receive “flash sales” are using them, she said.
And TSA screenings have put a crimp in airline travel, added speaker Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of the California Travel and Tourism Commission.
“Who likes to go to the airport any more?” asked Beteta.
Quantifying advertising returns has become more labor intensive, Beteta said. “It used to be you called ABC and bought a 30 second spot.” Now marketers have to count up “gross impressions” – the number of times people have been exposed to the same message, a message that may come from a number of different sources.
But savvy travel marketers can use technology to their advantage.
Kerns urged her audience to tweet – even during the meeting. There was a screen showing real-time tweets from within the room, provoking all sorts of tweet jokes, and the SMCVB is offering a free smartphone app.
Kerns encouraged the travel professional to overcome any personal reluctance and make good use of Facebook.
And there's more than one way to get a commercial message on television, Beteta said.
“The royal newlyweds chose California for their extended honeymoon,” she said. “Two billion people watched the wedding and they're going to watch to see what happens next.”
Beteta used prizes on the Ellen Degeneres show to plug California travel. She showed an example in which a woman with breast cancer was given a trip to the Monterey Peninsula.
If all else fails, apparently some journalists are willing to be flown out to stay in nice hotels and then write good things about their trips to Santa Monica.
Baker said she did just that with 44 journalists from Italy, France and China to good effect, “leveraging those relationships.”
“PR is a good bang for our buck,” Baker said.
There's also the “I am Santa Monica” program that teaches people from all walks of life, not just hospitality employees, to be better representatives of the city.
And the SMCVB plans to launch a Mobile Visitor Center, an “eye-catching, innovative, green vehicle,” Kerns said.
Next year's Summit will feature the Thelma Parks Spirit of Hospitality Tourism Awards.
At 97, Parks “literally worked to the day we lost her,” Kerns said. “This was her home. We will always have a special place in our hearts for her.”
For more information about the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau, visit its website at www.santamonica.com
“Because we're so special, we must work harder to maintain what we've got.” Rod Gould
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