Laguna Beach

Barbara’s Column

Taking Care of Business 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Visit Laguna Beach means business.

Since its inception 32 years ago as the Laguna Beach Hospitality Association, Visit Laguna Beach has focused on its mission to develop and market the city as a leading travel destination. That means bringing to Laguna tourists who will stay for more than a day at the beach. The success of the program and how it benefits the city, its residents and the business community was demonstrated at the annual Marketing Meeting, held Tuesday at Seven7Seven. 

“Even with all the rain, I am doing good,” said George Nelson, longtime owner of Fawn Memories on Forest Avenue. “We’ve got a lot of people in hotels and they have to do something, so they eat and they shop.”

What is good for business is also good for the city, according to Visit Laguna research. 

Tourism provides more than 5,000 jobs. Increased tax revenue driven by visitors increased 40 percent from 2007 to 2017. The Transient Occupancy Tax, familiarly known as “bed taxes” generates the second highest source of revenue to the city: $14.7 million in fiscal year 2017-2018.

Taking care board

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Board of Directors: (L-R) RJ Bear, Karyn Philippsen, Sharbie Higuchi, Joanna Bear, Ashley Johnson (President), Mark Orgill (chairman), Debbie MacDonald, Bob Mitchell, and Casey Graves. Missing: Christopher Keller

“The TOT is paid by overnight visitors, which is collected in its entirety by the city and goes into the general fund,” said Karyn Philippsen, a founding member of Visit Laguna Beach and currently board secretary.

In addition, the lodging establishments voluntarily assess themselves an additional 2 percent to fund the Business Improvement District.

Begun in fiscal year 2001-2002, BID revenue to the city in fiscal year 2017-18 totaled $2.4 million. 

The BID money funds activities that promote tourism and related events. Of the 2 percent of the bed taxes collected each year by the lodging establishments, half is allocated to the arts. Laguna Beach College of Art & Design, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Playhouse, Arts Commission Special Projects and Cultural Arts, each getting 10 percent of that half: $240,000 in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The other half went to Visit Laguna Beach to fulfill its mission “to develop and market Laguna Beach as a leading travel destination.”

But the early morning meeting wasn’t all about numbers. Well, it was, but they were made palatable by the speakers. 

Taking care trio

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Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, Paul Freeman, and Norm Grossman

Guests were greeted by Mark Orgill, a partner of Laguna Creative Adventures serving his second term as president of the Visit Laguna Beach Board of Directors. It was the best attended annual meeting ever, with an estimated 140 folks willing to rise and shine for the 8:30 a.m. breakfast. “Visit Laguna Beach continues to be the brand steward for the city and we could not operate like we do without the support of many city representatives,” said Orgill. He extended his personal thanks to city officials at the meeting, including Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, Councilman Peter Blake, Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works Shohreh Dupuis, Asstistant City Manager Christa Johnson, Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl, Police Chief Laura Farinella and Police Captain Jeff Calvert.

Johnson participated with Visit Laguna Chief Executive Officer Ashley Johnson (no relation) in a takeoff of “Good Morning America.”

“Today Christa will be sharing the top 10 initiatives the city is working on,” said VLB’s Johnson. 

 The 10 included progress on the Village Entrance, creation of drop-off areas for Uber and Lyfe, an A-plus rating of Laguna‘s Bluebelt, trolley service from remote parking lots and trolley tracker, Beach Street trolley stop and smart parking downtown. 

Taking care Farinella

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City update by Chief Farinella, Christa Johnson and Ashley Johnson

Johnson’s inclusion of the lowest crime rate in the city’s history brought Chief Farinella onto the set. 

Farinella credited the decrease to increased staffing and more engagement with the public.

After which Ashley Johnson soloed.

“We have a rich story to tell, which continues to be the major focus of our efforts in this year and beyond,” said Johnson. (Who knew that Laguna has more beachfront lodgings than any other city in the state, more galleries and independent retailers than any other beach city?) 

“But we can’t get caught up with how great we think we are and more importantly we can’t get complacent about telling our story,” said Johnson. 

Despite the BID infusion of cash, Laguna is competing with deeper pocket for destination tourists’ dollars.

Even so, 2018 was an exciting year for Visit Laguna Beach, according to Johnson. The new brand, a new website, and a new ad campaign were launched. 

“Through our partnerships [with the Chamber of Commerce, the city and the community] and marketing efforts we were able to inspire hundreds of thousands of qualified consumers,” said Johnson. “From domestic visitors that return year after year to potential international markets such as the United Kingdom and Australia to emerging markets such as China and India, we told our story.” 

Taking care Johnson

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Ashley Johnson

Social media is a key component of the marketing efforts.

“Instagram continues to be our Number 1 social media platform as it showcases our community and inspires the travelers,” said Johnson. 

And she announced a major undertaking just days away. 

The U.S. Travel Assocation will be meeting in Anaheim. Members of organizations like Visit Laguna Beach will meet with folks that will be selling tours and arranging trips for tourists. 

Visit Laguna Beach will have a 20-by-20-foot booth in partnership with The Ranch and Surf & Sand.   

“We are also hosting 50 delegates in Laguna on the Saturday prior to the convention, followed by a media tour for 50 travel writers on Sunday,” announced Johnson. “We are also co-hosting a press brunch at which all 500 members of the media are required to attend. 

“In the coming weeks we will also be launching a new program to attract some of the 17 million travelers who identify themselves as being health and well-being focused. 

“Now is the time to capture the attention of an important travel audience that also has disposable income to spend on unique experiences.”

Johnson concluded her talk with the presentation of a film extolling the attractions of Laguna Beach.

Taking care influencers

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Influencer Marketing Panel – (L-R) Geoff Kutnick, Caitlin Sakdalan and David Duranwith Anne-Marrie Schiefer – Digital Marketing Manager on the far left

The breakfast concluded with a panel discussion by “influencers,” Geoff Kutnick, Caitlin Sakdalan and David Duran, whose writings sway travelers and diners to a specific destination or eatery.

In the audience: Super Woman Heidi Miller, Chamber of Commerce Executive director Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold and board member Norm Grossman, Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey, former Mayor Paul Freeman, Kirsten Whalen¸ Laguna Board of Realtors President JJ Ballesteros and Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda

But wait – there’s more. You will find advance notice of all the fun and interesting stuff for visitors or residents to do in Laguna by reading Contributions are welcomed.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

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