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Convention and Visitors Bureau Sells Santa Monica to the World

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 12, 2014 -- With its luxury hotels, world-class dining and proximity to some of California’s most accessible beaches, Santa Monica draws more than seven million visitors a year from around the world, and most end up Downtown.

But Santa Monica’s success as a premier destination isn’t just about being a great place to visit. It’s also about making sure that people know just how great a place it is, according to officials at the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (SMCVB).

“Travelers have a lot of choices,” said Misti Kerns, the agency’s president and CEO. “The thing that’s important to remember is that not everyone knows what Santa Monica is all about.”

In December 2012, the City Council created a Tourism Marketing District (TDM) that is expected to generate an additional $3 million a year by levying small fees on hotels charging more than $100 a day per room.

The new revenues doubled the agency’s $2.6 million marketing budget, allowing it to more effectively spread the word about Santa Monica to international travelers, who accounted for 63 percent of the $1.53 billion spent by visitors to Santa Monica in 2012.

“With that money, we’ve worked very hard to create a strategic five-year plan to tap the emerging international market,” Kerns said.

As part of that plan, last August SMCVB beefed up its staff and expanded its global reach. It hired a director of Global Business Development tasked with “building and overseeing business development in the rapidly emerging Brazilian market,” as well as a director of International Business Development to focus on the European, Australian and New Zealand markets.

The bureau also hired permanent representatives in Australia and England and a part-time representative in Brazil, where the beachside city was recently featured in an eight-page photo spread in the South American nation’s version of Vogue Magazine.

“We never want to sit back and assume that people are just going to come,” Kerns said. “We advertise where we can afford to and where we can make an impact.”

When the visitors arrive from overseas, Santa Monica must still compete with LA for their lucrative tourist dollars. Los Angeles’ TMD may generate $18.1 million a year for promoting the metropolis as a destination, but Kerns believes Santa Monica has an edge.

“I think we have superior product,” she said “We need to have a little louder, more creative and strategic voice.”

To that end, the bureau makes sure to target a specific type of traveler who is comfortable getting around by foot, bike or public transit and who is, in general, drawn to Santa Monica’s healthy lifestyle.
With a limited budget, SMCVB opts to do most of its advertising through digital media and by working closely with Brand USA, a national public-private organization that promotes tourism to destinations across the U.S.

The strategy, Kerns said, is paying off as the bureau builds on its success. According to SMCVB’s annual report, a record 7.3 million people visited Santa Monica in 2012, up eight percent from 2011, with visitor spending totaling $1.5 billion.

That success is good news for the City, which saw nearly $50 million in sales and hotel taxes flow into its coffers in 2012 and, if the upward trend continues, it can likely expect more in the coming years.
“We’ve seen record breaking hotel occupancy this past year,” Kerns said. “Most (businesses) are back in the black. Employment is continuing to grow.”

The recent changes funded by the new Tourism Marketing District will help in “strengthening Santa Monica’s position as one of the leading destinations in the world, Kerns said, and “will be monumental in enhancing the future of our beloved beach town.”

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