Still intending to work for the airline, I got a job with Marriott working in the kitchen, preparing the food, not in-flight. That was not the job for me! I really didn’t know anything about hotels, but it was suggested to me that I might be interested in pursuing the hotel division instead. Marriott had an opportunity at the tie for in-house weekend sales in Washington D.C. So, that’s where it began, I dove into hospitality and ultimately spent 40 years with Marriott International.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
To bring visitors to Orange County. The visitors constitute a significant economic impact and create jobs. The fact that Orange County is so totally unique from beaches to Disneyland Resort & Knott’s Berry Farm. Outdoor sports — surfing to fishing — extraordinary dinning, spectacular accommodations, the largest convention center on the West Coast of America and fabulous shopping. There is so much to offer and it’s my goal to let the world know they are welcome in Orange County.
The Southern California market is a vast one — how does Orange County position itself to stand apart?
“Orange County is in the Heart of Southern California” which has everything that represents the California life style plus 42 miles of beaches, spectacular shopping, world-class lodging & entertainment, and more than 40 golf courses.
The major targeted areas that Orange County seeks to outreach to both domestic and international is where?
Domestically, our primary focus markets are San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago and Denver. Internationally, China is the big one, followed by Mexico, the Middle East, India and Japan.
How do you assess visitor feedback?
As a regional marketing organization, we aren’t in direct contact with visitors and rely on our partners at the DMO, hotel and attraction level to supply us with information as to visitor experience. Likewise, we closely monitor reporting from our state tourism entity, Visit California, on what drives visitor decision-making and satisfaction.
What roles does such information provide in terms of how you put together various future campaign promotions?
We build our messaging around five brand pillars that connect visitor desires to what we have to offer here in The OC.
How important is the impact derived from visitors who are golf oriented?
Golf-oriented visitors are an important audience for us, as they cross several consumer segments, from luxury leisure traveler, to business traveler to family traveler. At OCVA, we don’t have specific stats on the golf traveler as separate from these other groups, but we know they contribute significantly to visitor spending and overnight stays.
How much of an emphasis does Orange County take in elevating the visibility of the various golf offerings it provides?
It varies by market. For example, golf figures significantly into our domestic messaging, particularly our drive-markets and direct fly markets like Phoenix. Less so for some international markets, such as China, where there is some cultural sensitivity around golf.
Do you gather information statistics related to golf activities — such as rounds played, lodging visits directly tied to golf and other elements associated with the sport?
Not at this time.
So much emphasis is placed on reaching out to Millennials given their ascending role. What’s the approach taken by Orange County in this regard?
We don’t treat Millennials as one lump audience. Our messaging is experience focused and designed to appeal to niche interest groups, vs age groups. For example, we would target urban moms with school-aged kids as opposed to Millennial females.
The short and long term challenges facing Orange County in attracting visitors is what?
Orange County is known to a wide number of our visitors. Over 50 million visitors each year are drawn to the wide diversity of activities and beautiful facilities. The three big draws are the 42 miles of beaches, Disneyland, and exceptional resorts, conference and convention facilities, including the largest Convention center on the West Coast.
An ongoing short-term challenge for Orange County is how to set ourselves apart and help others understand while Orange County is in Southern California, it is separate and a different experience from LA and San Diego. This is especially a challenge internationally where we will continue to focus our outreach in China, the Middle East and Mexico.
Orange County has endless opportunities to market the destination to international travelers, but the challenge is finding the resources — manpower and financial means — for Orange County to get into other international markets like Canada, Japan and India, for example, and be effective in making an impact.
Restrictive Visa regulations in China continue to negatively affect Chinese travelers from visiting the U.S. Orange County Visitors Association has spent five years visiting media, travel and tour operators in China and while they are interested in booking trips to the U.S., getting a Visa is a challenge. We will continue to work with this market and the relations we’ve built and invite them to experience Orange County, regardless.
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