Showing the World What it Means to Dream Big

    By Caroline Beteta, President & CEO, Visit California

    In a state with so much to offer, it comes as no surprise that California welcomes more international travelers than anywhere in the country. But in an increasingly connected world where the competition grows stronger every year, it takes more than great product to retain our share of the market.

    At its core, Visit California’s guiding principle is to do what the industry cannot do for itself. Fueled by partnerships with some of the most influential brands, airlines and travel organizations, the Visit California program is a truly global force working on behalf of the businesses, destinations and leaders who make up the Golden State’s tourism community.
    The organization operates a $126 million global marketing program in 14 countries to promote the Golden State as a desirable travel destination. Over the next five years, Visit California will invest more than $500 million to not only drive top-of-mind awareness for the California experience, but also to support key economic development initiatives shaping the future of our state.

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    These efforts are working, and today tourism is booming: 2017 was the eighth straight year of growth for California tourism, with new highs in travel spending ($132.4 billion), tax revenue ($10.9 billion) and jobs (1.1 million). Within this ecosystem, California accommodations continue to drive growth: RevPAR reached a record $121; ADR continued its four-year rise to reach $161; and yearly hotel occupancy sustained leveled growth at 75.3 percent.

    Amid these record successes, high-value international travelers are playing bigger roles than ever, staying longer and spending more to the tune of 17.6 million in-person trips and $26.5 billion in spending in 2017. To put that in perspective, international travel was worth 30 percent more than the state’s next largest export, agriculture.

    International travel has always been a priority for Visit California since the beginning. The organization opened its first international offices in 1998 and hasn’t looked back since, now with 17 offices in 14 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Scandinavia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.
    Visit California classifies these markets by a three-tiered system based on each country’s propensity for outbound travel, informing which efforts are deployed in each country: In Tier 1 markets, Visit California invests in direct-to-consumer paid media – i.e., commercials and digital advertising – in addition to PR and trade efforts; in Tier 2, PR and trade activations represent the lion’s share of the investment; and in Tier 3, the regional teams drive tour packaging through trade activities.

    This approach – which factors in economic realities, population demographics, connectivity and more – has enabled Visit California to identify markets primed for big booms.
    China is a prime example of this. In 2008, Visit California opened its first two China offices as market indicators determined it would be a big deal for California. That initial investment has since turned into six offices and a $9 million investment that has fostered massive growth: In 2017, China is the state’s No. 1 overseas market, responsible for $3.1 billion in travel-related spending.

    We are now seeing similar conditions in India, which is why Visit California opened an office years ago to gain a foothold in the market. Indian travelers stay the longest (19 days on average) and spend the most ($2,500 average per trip) of any travelers in the world. As we welcome more direct flights from India, the floodgates are opening. Indian travelers are expected to surpass $1 billion in spending by 2021, and before you know it, California hotels will find more heads in beds from this critical market than ever before.

    Given these projections, Visit California pivoted one of its most successful programs, California Global Ready, to focus on India. The seminar series is designed to equip industry partners with the tools to understand the nuances of global travelers. The first China seminars were highly successful in providing insights even the most experienced hotelier may not know (try giving a Chinese traveler a green hat, for example, and prepare for a very awkward interaction).

    With the focus now on India, a full slate of seminars is underway this summer and fall. As we continue to look outward to engage international travelers, it is equally as important to look inward and ensure our industry is prepared for when the world comes to them.

    We still find ourselves living in a globally tense time, and in response to these realities, Visit California optimized its “Living the Dream” brand to position California as a welcoming destination for all. The resulting “All Dreams Welcome” initiative effectively rolls out the red carpet for international travelers with efforts across paid, owned, earned and trade channels in markets with the greatest sensitivities.

    These include the Golden State’s top two international markets, Mexico and Canada, which is why in 2017, Visit California led a C-level delegation on back-to-back goodwill missions that included three gateway mayors – Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, the late San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer – producing substantial global media coverage. Partnerships with gateway DMOs have generated localized campaigns, and despite projections of softening, we have instead seen sustained growth across the board.

    While continued efforts in key markets reinforce this message, the spirit behind “All Dreams
    Welcome” represents a much larger point: We are not an island. We live in an impossibly connected matrix of countries, cultures, people and beliefs — and if we want to succeed, we must learn as much as possible about the people we are trying to reach.

    California has always shined as a beacon on a hill of sorts, calling to dreamers who see the state as a place where innovation and creativity are a part of its very DNA. This provides a distinct advantage for California’s tourism community, but ultimately it is the industry itself that brings the California Dream to life.

    We see this almost every day through Visit California’s year-round trade efforts, press trips,
    familiarization tours and more: California accommodations are the ones actually delivering those unforgettable experiences — and it is working.

    As we look to even bigger goals on the horizon, nothing is out of reach if we remain united and stay true to our creed: Dream Big.

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