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Monday, Aug 15, 2022
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Valley Gets on Convention Map

In the past, the most San Fernando Valley hotels could hope for in convention business was a little spillover from city-wide events centered at the Los Angeles Convention Center. But that is beginning to change as hotel operators have pushed to have the Valley marketed as a destination unto itself. It has shown some results. In March, over 6,000 people who work full-time selling the Tahitian Noni fruits gathered in the Valley, generating over 10,000 room nights for 11 different San Fernando Valley hotels. The convention’s organizers presented at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal Studios, and guests stayed at hotels as far away as Woodland Hills, taking shuttle buses or the Metro Orange Line to events. Chris Heywood, a marketing manager for LA Inc. The Convention and Visitors Bureau for Los Angeles, said the convention was the result of a strategy to sell the Valley as a distinct, and self-sustainable, location for meetings. The Convention Center still offers the largest amount of exhibit space in the city, but Heywood said there are plenty of smaller conventions that don’t need as much space or as many hotel rooms across the city and may prefer the Valley to more congested neighborhoods like downtown or the area near LAX. “Basically we’re saying that we’re raising the bar for the Valley,” said Heywood. “Now that we have this success story, we can use this as leverage to get future business. The Valley has the potential to accommodate larger groups than it has in the past, and we’re making it a priority to sell this part of the city to larger groups.” LA Inc. now has a sales person focusing on mid-sized conventions specifically, and in early June the organization will host its second phone sales blitz, focusing on meeting planners. Heywood expects 100 percent participation from Valley hotels in the effort. The Valley, he said, has the added advantage of being able to market Universal City both as a meeting place and a destination at the same time. Universal City Walk provides nearby entertainment for the attendees. The area is also well-served by public transportation and it benefits from the proximity of Burbank Airport. Shon Whitney, vice president of marketing and communications for Tahitian Noni International in Provo, Utah, said the group selected the Valley as its meeting ground in part because meeting on the West Coast this year was a priority. “We had it New York last time, we did a big Radio City Music Hall presentation, but we really wanted to come to the West Coast for this year, we have a lot of people coming in from Japan and other parts of Asia,” Whitney said. With between 6,000 and 7,000 attendees, Whitney said, the organization was looking for a space larger and more interesting than a hotel ballroom without being so large as to seem uncomfortable. A few years ago, the Tahitian Noni convention was held at the Anaheim Convention Center, Whitney said, but the feeling was too impersonal to make exhibits seem welcoming and to stage entertainment acts that the group makes a priority. This year, for example, Huey Lewis and the News played the convention. Whitney said the Valley easily met the conference’s expectations. Tahitian Noni rented out Universal Studios for its attendees for one night during the conference, and plenty of guests spent time at City Walk. “Overall, the people that came just had a tremendous amount of positive things to say, they really enjoyed the venue,” said Whitney. “Internally, the staff at the Gibson Amphitheatre and Universal were just fantastic.” Adrian Larick, director of sales and marketing for the Sheraton Universal, said the hotel saw about 1,000 room nights from the Tahitian Noni convention. “Basically we just took as many people as we could, people spilled out all the way to Warner Center,” Larick said. Larick said that in writing marketing plans looking at the coming year, she never used to consider that a Valley-wide, self-contained convention was even possible. The impact a convention has on the area around it can be huge, Larick surmised. “If you think about what it can do for an area financially, I’m sure that piece of business brought a ton of business to the rest of the Valley,” she said. Jill Przelinski, director of special events for the Gibson Amphitheatre House of Blues Concerts, said she’s been spending a lot of time toward working with L.A. Inc. “It’s absolutely a priority of the company, when we’re using the facility for the concert business, to use the venue for corporate events,” Przelinski said. Przelinksi said she’s also working with other local convention and visitors bureaus in Pasadena and even as far away as Anaheim to market the theatre and Universal City. The efforts have started to pay off, she said. “There are several things we’re working on, nothing that’s absolutely ‘in the can,’ as they say in Hollywood, but we feel like we’re in a very strong position as we’re tying up the fiscal year,” she said. Przelinksi said that having a successful convention like Tahitian Noni does quite a bit to get the word out to other meeting planners. Rob Balmer, general manager of the Hilton Burbank Airport & Convention Center said the hotel has seen a measurable increase in meetings booked over the last few years. “I’ not sure why, maybe as the economy gets better people are holding more meetings,” said Balmer. “It could be our location too, flights out of Burbank are increasing, and maybe the availability of more flights makes it easier to fly in and out of the area.” Whatever the reason, Balmer says meeting planners have to think further ahead to get meeting space this year. “For the past year or 18 months our booking cycle, except for large groups that come year after year, has been really short. People will call a couple of weeks before a meeting,” Balmer said. “This year our weekend through out the summer are full very early, there aren’t many weekends left.” Przelinksi said that the increase in business may simply be a result of word getting around among the right group of people. “When people have that type of positive experience, word gets out there, and that does of lot of marketing for us,” Przelinski said. “It’s a good illustration of the theory that says if one person tells another, that person tells a couple more. When meeting planners like to be somewhere, they tell a lot of people about it.”

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