|By Mary Ann Milbourn, The Orange County RegisterMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News |
March 21--Jay Burress knows something about promoting tourism. For the past five years, he headed the Arlington, Texas, visitors and convention bureau during major events such as the NBA All-Star Game, Super Bowl XLV, two Major League Baseball World Series and the move of the Cotton Bowl Classic to Cowboys Stadium.
But then he saw "Kids at Play," a new California tourism commercial showing children enjoying a ride at California Adventure's Cars Land, sunbathing next to the Montage Laguna Beach's mosaic pool and being kissed by a beluga whale at SeaWorld San Diego.
"We can't compete with that," Burress recalled thinking at the time.
Now he doesn't have to.
In December, the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau named Burress to succeed Charles Ahlers, the retiring president and chief executive. Burress has been in his new job only a month, but he already has a good idea of what he wants to do.
The top of his list is getting the word out about all of Orange County's attractions that people may not be aware of, he said. International travelers, who make up 10 percent of the visitors to Anaheim and Orange County, are a prime target. Burress is particularly interested in Chinese tourists, who are increasingly traveling to the United States after eased visa restrictions.
"We have a major opportunity to capitalize on that and we want to be a leader," said Burress, who started wooing Chinese visitors to Texas 15 years ago when he was in sales with the Dallas Visitor & Convention Bureau.
He also wants to build on the work of his Anaheim predecessors. The city just completed the convention center's Grand Plaza, a 100,000-square-foot outdoor space with a fountain and palm trees that can be used for events, parties and even weddings.
Burress will oversee the convention's seventh expansion, adding 250,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The additional space will allow the convention center to attract big groups such as cardiologists and the Heart Association, which left years ago because it needed more room for continuing education seminars.
Increasing demand for continuing education space is one of the major changes in the convention business.
"It is vital for us to keep growing and moving forward," he said.
Burress also wants to take advantage of new technology and social media to get the word out. Last week, the convention bureau launched its new Pinterest website, which features pictures of Orange County events and attractions.
As an outsider, Burress said one of the area's weak points in the past was a lack of quality dining. It was mostly restaurant chain and family fare. That has changed with the likes of the Napa Rose and the Ranch in Anaheim and other fine-dining restaurants, he said.
"We need to wave our flag a little bit on our success," he said.
To that end, the convention bureau is promoting a new OC Chefs online video series featuring local chefs talking about their food and culinary philosophy.
The first three parts include chef Yves Fournier at Andrei's Conscious Cuisine in Irvine; chef Oge Dalken at Chapter One in Santa Ana and chefs Florent and Amelia MarneauÍ at Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa. (See anaheimoc.org/occhefs)
"There are just some great things here that nobody knows about," Burress said.
His goal for the convention bureau, he said, is to strengthen the organization's place in the industry. "We don't want to be just the biggest, but the best."
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