Visitor Groups Rebrand for Business, Leisure, More
Changes Mirror National Trends, Cast Wider Net

Orange County Business Journal
By Paul Hughes
Monday, August 11, 2014

What's in a name?

A lot more than before for Orange County business and tourist groups.

Five such groups have changed their names and logos, organizational structures and relationships with the cities and business groups they serve in recent years, to attract a wider audience and bring more people to town.

A similar work is in progress at a sixth group-the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau-the latest and largest to make the move.

The bureau has hired a new president, Jay Burress, and reorganized with three new vice presidents in the past 18 months.

It's now at work on a rebranding that may include a new name and logo by year-end.

"We have to adapt and align and use all our resources," Burress said.

Anaheim's work follows a trend that includes:

• The Newport Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau changed its name to Visit Newport Beach in 2008.

• The Irvine Chamber Visitors Bureau changed its name to Destination Irvine in 2010.

• The Buena Park Convention & Visitors Bureau became Visit Buena Park in 2011.

• The Huntington Beach Marketing & Visitors Bureau opted for Visit Huntington Beach in 2013.

• Also last year, the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau switched to Visit Laguna Beach.

The Costa Mesa Conference & Visitor Bureau uses the name Travel Costa Mesa informally and on its website but hasn't officially changed it.

Some of the details for each city differ.

Irvine had been using the Destination Irvine name for economic development but not for tourism. Huntington Beach had long held the Surf City USA nickname but wanted the more-encompassing identity for its overall organization.

And last year, the first group to switch-Newport Beach-took the trend a step further and branded an umbrella group, Newport Beach & Co., to coordinate marketing of many different organizations in the city.

Location, Location

The efforts reflect an international trend at the city, state, national and even international levels, in cases such as Australia, which recently recast its promotional efforts.

Even the industry's trade association changed its name in 2005 from the International Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus to the Destination Marketing Association International.

Several OC groups said one reason is to banish staid and stodgy "convention and visitors bureau" impressions from the minds of meeting planners and the general public-or prevent it from taking hold in the first place.

"Some people don't know what a CVB is," said Sara Copping, director of Visit Buena Park, using the acronym familiar to industry veterans. "And it was confusing to the leisure market."

A second reason is that the new images cover more ground: The message is come to the city for anything.

"We position ourselves as the center of Orange County," said Wendy Haase, Destination Irvine director of tourism marketing. "The county is a desirable destination; Irvine is the ideal location to experience it from."

"Experience" becomes nearly as important as "visit"-some cities elsewhere have used the former instead of the latter. It's the vibrancy of a verb that asks visitors to do something.

"It's a call to action and has been extremely helpful in our marketing messages," said Ashley Johnson, head of Visit Laguna Beach.

Even Johnson's title reflects the shifted focus: She leads the group as a president would, but her title is director of brand marketing and communications, which focuses Visit Laguna Beach on its task of getting the message out so people come to town.

New names are part of a package, said Madison Fisher, director of marketing and communications at Visit Huntington Beach. That's keeping groups current in the industry, broadening and unifying the message for all visitors, and highlighting a city's unique elements.

"It says we're close enough to L.A. that you can drive down but far enough that you still feel like you got away for the day or weekend," she said.

Destination Next

The work is part of embracing a group's status as a "destination marketing organization."

Most of them have a present or former connection to the city or the chamber of commerce and are funded by hotel taxes, an improvement district or, more rarely, the city's budget.

• Visit Newport received $2.2 million from a 3% assessment by its improvement district for 2013-2014. It also shares in about $4 million from an 18% portion of the city's 10% transit occupancy tax; that money is for Newport Beach & Co., the umbrella organization that also promotes other groups in the city.

• Destination Irvine splits a 2% improvement district assessment with the city and the chamber of commerce's economic development programs. Its total comes to about $1 million. The city retains the transit occupancy tax.

• Visit Huntington Beach receives about $2.3 million a year: $800,000 from its portion of the city's 10% transit occupancy tax and $1.5 million from a 2% improvement district assessment on hotels. The city is considering a hike in the latter to 3%, Fisher said.

• The Anaheim/OC VCB's improvement district assessment of 2% for hotels in Garden Grove and Anaheim brings in $12 million of its $14.5 million in revenue.

• Visit Buena Park's funding is still part of the city budget-about $400,000 a year-but it's working with Sacramento-based Civitas Advisors, which helps cities establish improvement districts. Copping said it's looking at a 2% to 3% assessment similar to the other groups.

The organizations have also stepped up their technology efforts. Websites are typically mobile-friendly, officials said.

Visit Buena Park contributes tourism information to the city's app; Laguna Beach has its own app; and Anaheim/OC VCB is developing one.

Officials said the moves are merely the start of more concerted efforts to promote hospitality in their areas.

Anaheim/OC's Burress said his group sometimes gets involved in "destination architecture," or helping developers choose the best sites for new projects.

Destination Irvine's Haase said branding moves in cycles and might be driven by a group's new boss or expanded meeting venues in the city. But she said destination marketing organizations should always compare what they're doing with how visitors perceive the destinations.

"It's not just a name and a tagline," she said.

And that's the key, the officials agree.

"Branding" sounds hip, but it's nothing without execution-and more sophisticated work is on the way.

A study of 360 destination marketing organizations worldwide showed three areas of future efforts, said Gary Sherwin, president of Visit Newport Beach and co-author of a book on the subject, "Destination Brand Science."

He said the first finding is that hospitality promoters must begin working with developers to help create the area's amenities.

Next, they ask local officials, residents, businesses, hotel and tourism groups, and visitors what they think the destination is so the group can properly market it.

Third, the group aligns with other economic development interests in the community.

"You bring it all together," Sherwin said, "and talk about it in a single voice."