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Roundtable Agreed: More Tourism Promotion Needed

The San Fernando Valley is affordable, home to tourist attractions and not far from the beach and the bright lights of Hollywood. Yet, it is oft-overlooked by tourists, who decide to spend their Southern California stay in other parts of Los Angeles. In light of this trend, a roundtable was hosted by the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley on April 3 to generate discussion about how best to spread the word that the Valley is a choice destination for tourists. Because General Manager Michael Spencer is new to the Sportsmen’s Lodge, having most recently worked in Hollywood, he arguably had the freshest view of the Valley among the roundtable participants. “The Valley is below the radar,” Spencer said. One way to make the area more prominent, he and other roundtable participants agreed, would be to market its proximity to Hollywood, the one destination in Los Angeles familiar to tourists from all over the world. “Hollywood is ten minutes away,” Spencer said. Roundtable participants stressed that this fact needs to be played up because many tourists have no idea where the Valley is in relationship to Hollywood. Thus, they end up dishing out loads of money to stay in the vicinity of the Sunset Strip when they could cut the costs of their vacations significantly by lodging in the Valley. Spencer and fellow G.M. Bert Seneca of Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn said there can be more than a $100 differential between Valley and West Los Angeles hotel rates. In addition to trying to publicize this discrepancy to tourists, Economic Alliance’s Bruce Ackerman believes the many business executives who visit the Valley need to be provided with reasons to return here on vacation with their spouses and children in tow. Ackerman also believes that there is a huge opportunity for Valley hotels to offer packages to delegations, in hopes that they will choose to meet at a hotel in this area instead of elsewhere. The Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills was cited by roundtable participants as an ideal hotel to fill this role. The Marriott could also serve as the destination for local industries to have their meetings. “The higher quality hotel will attract more of that product,” Spencer said. Scott McGookin, Burbank’s economic development manager, believes that we will shortly see more luxury hotels in the San Fernando Valley. “I receive inquiries every week for hotel development,” he said. “I think there’s a real pent-up demand for hotel space.” Asked how their hotels have done thus far in 2008, Spencer and Seneca seemed optimistic. “The indication is that the industry is doing as well as it did last year,” Seneca said. “Some brands aren’t hitting their target markets, but my [first] quarter [2008] exceeded last quarter. I don’t anticipate that we’re going to slow down.” Spencer agreed. He said that his hotel will likely do as well as, or better than, last quarter. He also expects it to rebound from last fall when the hotel was particularly hard hit by the Writers Strike. The amount of construction going on at nearby hotels is also likely to give the Sportsmen’s Lodge a boost, Spencer said. Burbank’s hotel industry is also excelling, according to McGookin. “Our transient occupancy rate is up,” he said. “There’s a lot more activity around the Marriott Convention Center downtown. With the exchange rate being the way it is, we should see more foreign travel.” Seneca is also counting on the dollar’s devaluation to help push occupancy rates up. “We anticipate ’08 being a healthy year,” he said. “There will be a lot of international travel coming in, specifically to my hotel.” So far, the only notable disappointment in the hotel industry this year has been that Easter was observed so early that it fell into the first quarter rather than the second, which could mean that second quarter occupancy rates will be lower than those of 2007, Ackerman said. In addition to motivating tourists to stay in Valley hotels, Ackerman believes they should also be motivated to arrive at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank rather than at Los Angeles International. The pitch would be that Burbank airport is close to major tourist attractions and is markedly less busy than LAX, making it a more convenient point of entry. “We should position the airport as more than just an airport,” Ackerman said. The Valley, home to Universal Studios and Warner Brothers Studios, as well as a slew of television and radio stations, should also find a way to push the offerings that tourists likely don’t know about. There’s the Mission San Fernando Rey de Espa & #324;a, named for St. Ferdinand, King of Spain, and founded in September 1797 in the North Valley, where Interstate 5, Interstate 405 and the Simi Valley Freeway (California 118) meet. There’s also Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park in Agua Dulce. Part of the San Andreas Fault, the jagged rocks were formed 25 million years ago and take their name from Tiburcio Vasquez, a bandit who eluded the authorities in 1873 and 1874 by hiding in the area. The rock formations make a good tourist attraction because they have been featured in numerous films and television shows. Not far from the Valley is Solvang, a town settled by Danish educators in 1911 that bills itself as offering a taste of Denmark in California. The town has been featured in “Sideways,” alluded to in episodes of “The Simpsons” and other shows and is home to actress Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell, daughter of Alfred Hitchcock. Just six miles away is former President Reagan’s ranch, Rancho del Cielo, known as the Western White House. “That’s a marketing angle,” tourism consultant Bob Scott said of the aforementioned attractions. He and others noted that the Valley is home to an array of celebrities, as far ranging as “Golden Girls” star Betty White and Britney Spears’ ex Kevin Federline. The idea of “star maps” and tours of celebrities’ homes being offered here was tossed around. All in all, Ackerman said that the Valley needs to carve out a distinct identity to become marketable. “We need to become the alternative to L.A. without saying we’re being the alternative to L.A.,” he said. Tourism Roundtable Participants Bruce Ackerman, President. Economic Alliance Bob Scott, Consultant, SFV Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Bert Seneca, General Manager. Beverly Garland Holiday Inn Michael Spencer, General Manager, Sportsmen’s Lodge Scott McGookin, Economic Development Manager, City of Burbank Bill Van Laningham, Marketing Director, Los Angeles Newspaper Group Victor Gill. Public Affairs/Communications Director, Burbank- Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority Jason Schaff, Editor, SFV Business Journal (Moderator)

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