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Thursday, Jun 1, 2023

Tourism Vet Hired To Permanent Post At Visitors Bureau

An L.A. tourism industry veteran has been named to a permanent executive post at the San Fernando Valley Conference and Visitors Bureau in the most significant step in recent memory to breathe new life into the nascent tourism advocacy group. Jay Aldrich, a longtime public relations manager of Autry National Center in Griffith Park, has taken over as CEO on a part-time basis, serving as the only paid employee of the nonprofit. “It’s just me,” said Aldrich, 63, who volunteered at the bureau for about 10 years before taking on the permanent post this month. “What a great challenge.” Aldrich has spent much of the last few weeks meeting with hospitality partners and other members to hash out a game plan for boosting enrollment and enhancing the Valley’s image locally and abroad. Aldrich said he’s also looking to attract city funding to make his position full time with the help of LA Inc., the city’s downtown-based visitors and tourism bureau that has historically had icy relations with the Valley-specific group. The two sides have already worked on an expo scheduled for next month to familiarize those in the Valley hospitality business about what the area has to offer. “We’re working as a team,” he said. Michael Collins, LA Inc. executive vice president, who worked frequently with Aldrich at the Autry, said the addition of Aldrich on a permanent basis helps both the Valley and the city as a whole. “It’s good for us,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunities for symbiotic relationships.” Bert J. Seneca, general manager of Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn Universal Studios Hollywood, said making Aldrich a permanent fixture makes sense given his institutional knowledge. “Jay’s phenomenal,” said Seneca, who has also worked with Aldrich for a number of years. “He’s very welcome.” New phase The addition of a permanent executive is the most significant step in the troubled evolution of the Valley-designated tourism bureau. Created in the early 1990s, it was originally part of the North Hollywood-Universal City Chamber of Commerce and served as a clearinghouse for Valley specific tourism information, a supplement to LA Inc. By the mid-1990s, the loosely organized group spun off, created a board and charged itself with representing the entire Los Angeles portion of the Valley as well as the cities of Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale and San Fernando. The group, however, struggled from a lack of funding and eventually went dormant until 1997, when the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley resurrected it. Later, under Aldrich and CEO David Iwata, a former sales and marketing director for Marriott International, the group built its membership and held events. But with just an $80,000 budget from the Economic Alliance and no city funding most of the city’s tourism dollars went to LA Inc. the bureau struggled. At the same time, business groups from other areas of the city began to raise concerns that LA Inc. focused too much attention on downtown and Hollywood. Many argued that the Valley should receive a share of the hotel bed tax it generates, instead of the funds being used by LA Inc. to promote the entire L.A. region. “There was a lot of head-butting years ago,” Aldrich said. “They thought that we were marauders coming in, taking some of their money.” In 2003, a group of Westside business owners and hoteliers suggested using a part of the city’s hotel bed tax to open regional bureaus. The concept, while hardly new, gained support from some city council members, including Wendy Greuel, who introduced a motion last fall. Last year, Iwata left, leaving Economic Alliance President and CEO Bruce Ackerman to fill in. Then, in January, the Autry downsized and laid off Aldrich, who had worked there since it opened in 1988. It wasn’t long before Ackerman recruited Aldrich to take over on a more permanent basis. “In a heartbeat,” Ackerman said. “He’s got such a wealth of information when it comes to tourism and visitors. We’ve been lucky to have him as chairman for 10 years. Now it’s great to put him in a permanent position. Varied career Aldrich brings with him an extensive career in promotions and marketing. A native of upstate New York and former U.S. Navy SEAL (including a memorable stint recovering returned spacecraft and astronauts in the Atlantic Ocean), Aldrich worked for years in the public relations department of the New England Aquarium in Boston before heading west and landing a job in promotions at NBC. After General Electric bought the network, Aldrich jumped to the just-completed Autry in Griffith Park and began marketing it and the Valley to out-of-towners. He’s now using those contacts to benefit the bureau and is aggressively attracting new corporate members, area chambers of commerce, neighborhood councils and the other non-L.A. cities in the Valley that have not provided financial backing to the bureau in previous years. “They’re going to be hit up for support,” he said, “because it’s all about bringing business into the Valley, spending money.” The Economic Alliance will continue to host the bureau and serve as its main fundraiser, although that could change once the Greuel motion passes council. The measure, backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, asks the city to allocate the $600,000 in taxes generated from Valley hotels to the Valley bureau, and is awaiting budgetary approval. LA Inc. is also voicing its support for the funding and the two are working together on a number of programs, including the business expo scheduled for May 22 at the Warner Center Marriott. The event will feature exhibits and seminars by Valley-area hotels, restaurants, tourist spots and venues and is designed to remind those in the tourism and lodging business about what the area has to offer. Aldrich said that any bad blood between the two competitive groups is gone. “Finally, we’ve gotten through their heads that no, we’re not looking to take money away from you; we’re looking to work with you because we can do things that you can’t do and we can do things that you can’t do,” he said. “It’s come a long way.” Collins credits Aldrich with smoothing relations. “We’re looking for ways not to compete but to find common ground where we can do our own work for the city and at the same time advance the Valley as well,” he said.

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