Business, tourism groups discuss joint projects [Updated]

Newport Beach visitors bureau, Visit Newport Beach Inc., and the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce created a joint task force Thursday, in an effort to begin a dialogue over combining their destination marketing efforts for the city.

During a regular board meeting Thursday afternoon at Newport Beach Marriott Bayview hotel, VNB board members nominated their half of the task force committee. This past Tuesday, the chamber's executive committee approved a similar motion at its own board meeting.

Consisting of 10 members, the task force will likely begin meeting as early as next week, according to VNB President Gary Sherwin.

This story has been updated to include a quote from Newport Beach City Councilman Rush Hill.

Representing VNB are Sherwin, former City Manager Homer Bludau, former Mayor Dennis O'Neil, VNB board member, current General Manager Tom Johnson and Marriott General Manager Debbie Snavely. Comprising the chamber's side are chamber President Richard Luehrs, and board members Carol McDermott, Joe DuBois, Chandler Bell and Dawn Lawrenz.

The two organizations are not considering merging, according to their leaders, but are instead beginning a new discussion on how best to help each other serve the city's tourism industry and enhance its brand.

"No one is talking about a merger," Luehrs said Thursday, "or coming out with a single entity. We continue to look at new ways to provide service and value to our members and the city. This is just another way of doing that."

Luehrs acknowledged the chamber's financial struggles in recent years and sees this collaboration as a way to adapt to changing social marketing opportunities. Responding to public complaints on its financial transparency, the chamber separated the finances of its general membership from its political action committee in January.

Sherwin said that his business, though not interested in the advocacy the chamber offers, wants to help the chamber improve upon the city's marketing events, including the Christmas Boat Parade and Taste of Newport.

"We're not talking about taking two organizations and smashing them together," he said. "We're creating something new and innovative. Our job is to bring people to town and spend more money, and if we can do that by working with the chamber, we should."

"As the city looks to outsource the management of our Business Improvement Districts, I feel VNB has great marketing skills they can bring to the table and the chamber has great event managing skills and can assist the BIDs in bringing uniformity to their operational and management responsibilities," City Councilman Rush Hill wrote in an email late Thursday.

"If a joint proposal to serve the city can be prepared, and if selected, there certainly is the opportunity for VNB and the Chamber to discuss even further joint efforts, including merging the organizations," continued Hill, who originally recommended the task force's formation.

Also at VNB's meeting Thursday, Luehrs cited a date change for the Christmas Boat Parade. Originally scheduled for Dec. 12 through 16, it's now slotted for Dec. 19 through 23.

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