Tourism conference: O.C. cities should work together

Sibling rivalries are expected and, to a degree, beneficial, but when it comes to tourism in Orange County cities, the message Wednesday was all about working together.

"Of course we'll keep working individually too — I still want to keep my job," Gary Sherwin, president and chief executive of Visit Newport Beach Inc., joked while speaking at the fourth annual Tourism Conference at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa.

Overall, speakers at the event organized by the Orange County Tourism Council encouraged the audience — and each other — to work together to develop "The OC" as a global brand and destination for international visitors.

"We're talking about this wonderful shared asset called Orange County," Sherwin said to the audience. "When you hear 'The OC' anywhere in the world, you know what they're talking about — they're talking about us. And we take a lot of pride in that."

Panelist Judith Bijlani, president and chief executive of the Laguna Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau, pointed to the county's miles of beaches, art museums, galleries and shopping as several of the key components making up "part of the OC experience," a tagline she encouraged local businesses to adopt.

"In a competitive spirit, we need to come up with something that benefits all of us," she said.

The Sawdust Art Festival and Sawdust studio art classes in Laguna are examples of localized events whose visitors benefit the wider regional area, she said.

While Steve Bone, president and chief executive of the Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau, acknowledged the importance of promoting Orange County as a whole, he said each city still has a responsibility to its own jurisdiction.

Thus, getting the cities to work together is like "herding the collective cats," Bone said.

However, the Tourism Council is working on a solution that will integrate all the various arts, entertainment, dining and shopping amenities in the county under one virtual roof, said Bijlani, who also serves as on council's board of directors.

A new website with mobile applications is being developed to allow visitors to see all that the county has to offer and plan their itineraries, she said.

Mobile traffic is predicted to overcome desktop traffic by 2013, she said.

"It's going to be the most important tool in reaching visitors and extending their stay in Orange County," Bijlani said.

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