Standing resolute during a time of travel bans and border tensions, California has the welcome mat out for tourism. Visit California, the state’s marketing organization, is focused on strengthening the state’s international and domestic visitor appeal as never before, according to president and CEO Caroline Beteta.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Visit California has succeeded in unifying support from destinations throughout a state that is larger and more geographically diverse than many countries.
“Over the years, we have grown from a collection of competitors into a coalition of thousands of businesses and hundreds of destinations,” Beteta said. “It’s a collective that has been consistently guided by the same, singular defining principle—that we can only succeed if we work together to make tourism happen.”
Among recent Visit California initiatives is “All Dreams Welcome,” a branding campaign focusing on the international market, particularly the state’s biggest visitation drivers, Mexico and Canada. Echoing the sentiment are similar messages at the local level, including San Francisco’s “Always Welcome” and Los Angeles’ “Everyone is Welcome” campaigns.
Other efforts include raising awareness among elected leaders of the importance of tourism to local economies. These include a 60-foot installation called Travel Matters to California in the State Capitol building illustrating tourism’s impact in all 58 counties. Beteta noted that the message is being heard, citing the fact that 10 California cities recently passed resolutions recognizing the value of travel.
Both business and leisure tourism in California are on an upward path, yielding $126.3 billion in visitor spending in 2016, a 3.1 percent increase over 2015, according to a survey from Dean Runyan Associates. In 2017, spending is projected to increase by 3.1 percent and visitation, which totaled 268.4 million per-person trips last year, is expected to grow 2.1 percent.
Creating a challenge for meeting planners in many of California’s popular meetings destinations are robust hotel occupancies and average daily rates. According to a June 2017 hotel occupancy report from STR, a firm that tracks hotel industry performance and metrics, the statewide hotel occupancy rate stood at 81.3 percent and the average daily rate was $165.92.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, hotel occupancies reached 86 percent and average daily rates were slightly over $205. Los Angeles County and San Diego both saw occupancies achieve 85 percent, while room rates averaged $180.12 and $171.59, respectively.
The good news for buyers is that hotel development, after a decade of stagnation, is also on an upward trajectory, especially in the major convention destinations of San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego.
Convention center space is also growing, with an expansion and redesign in the works at San Francisco’s Moscone Center and another in the planning stages for the Sacramento Convention Center. A major renovation and redesign of the Monterey Conference Center is wrapping up this fall, while the Anaheim Convention Center recently unveiled an addition that makes it the largest meetings facility on the West Coast.
For planners searching for optimum value and availability, Beteta advises looking beyond the gateways.
“There’s an abundance of places that will create new experiences for meetings, whether the interest is in outdoor adventure, culture or culinary experiences,” she said. “California is a great place to roll up your sleeves and get inspired.”