Tourism executives and top political leaders in Orange County agreed Friday that the region has much to offer visitors but isn’t doing enough to market itself as a destination.
But whether to proceed with a countywide promotion plan, and how to pay for it, were left undecided at the county’s first “Tourism Summit.”
The meeting, which drew about 100 executives to the Anaheim Convention Center, was organized by two county supervisors and Anaheim’s mayor to try to build consensus on an overall marketing strategy in the $4.8-billion vacation and travel industry.
Among the ideas floated were whether to ask cities to turn over a portion of their hotel room taxes, or try to find funding from John Wayne Airport or the transit bus system. They were turned over to panel of seven to consider.
While cities like San Diego and Las Vegas have unified advertising promotions to lure billions of dollars in tourist spending, Orange County’s efforts have been largely fragmented among individual attractions and convention bureaus.
Summit participants appeared to favor a campaign to create a separate, distinct identity for Orange County.
“We have to make Los Angeles a suburb. Stay here and maybe you’ll get into L.A.,” said retired Disneyland President Jack Lindquist, one of the panel members.
The separatist movement has been steadily gaining strength amid the string of misfortune that has hit Los Angeles--from riots and wildfires to floods and earthquakes.
The outcry picked up steam with the killings last month of two Japanese students in San Pedro, heavily publicized in Japan as another example of rampant gun violence in America.
Though Orange County has been largely untouched by the streak of calamities, executives complain that Los Angeles’ bad publicity has hurt tourist attendance at Disneyland and Orange County’s myriad other visitor hot spots, particularly among the big-spending Japanese.
Making matters worse, other cities have backed their convention and vacation businesses with major advertising campaigns. Las Vegas’ visitor bureau, for instance, is spending $16.4 million to promote a family-friendly image, compared to Anaheim’s promotion budget of $250,000, according to the Anaheim Area Visitor & Convention Bureau.
The problem, said Anaheim Marriott General Manager Ned Snavely, is that the region lacks “marquee value” compared to those. Visitors know Disneyland, but don’t know Orange County and all it has to offer.
The solution, participants agreed, is to find a way to market the county as a whole. “We need to sell the county and look at it as a collective,” said Anaheim convention bureau President Charles Ahlers.
Just where to find the money for such a program, however, was not clear.
“At the core of this is the need for more funding, both from the public and private sectors,” said Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly, who co-chaired the event with Supervisors William G. Steiner and Gaddi H. Vasquez.
Steiner said he wants to explore whether the county’s 31 cities that already tax hotel stays--Anaheim’s “transient occupancy tax” rate is 13%, for instance--would be willing to dedicate part of it to overall promotion.
“I am proposing that, as a matter of consistent policy, that a portion of the existing tax be dedicated to marketing the county as a whole,” Steiner said. “I am not proposing that cities have a bed tax or (that it) be increased. I think we can do this job with our existing resources.”
Steiner added that he wants to investigate whether funds might be available from John Wayne Airport, the Orange County Transit Authority or tidelands sources.
He and Vasquez said they are inclined to support a county tourism office, similar to the state’s.
But Ahlers said he favors funneling any money into countywide promotion and advertising instead of creating a new tourism office.
Luring Tourism How Anaheim Area Visitor & Convention Bureau’s budget and advertising expenditures compare to those of nearby cities (in millions of dollars): Tourism budget Anaheim: $4.9 Las Vegas: $62.0 Los Angeles: $11.1 San Diego: $8.3 San Francisco: $10.0 *Advertising spending Anaheim: $0.25 Las Vegas: $16.4 Los Angeles: $0.75 San Diego: $2.5 San Franciso: $0.65 Source: Anaheim Area Visitor & Convention Bureau; Researched by JANICE L. JONES /Los Angeles Times