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Ten California Coastal Resorts Put Aside Competition, 
Band Together to Make Marketing Pitch

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By Sandi Cain, May 2005
Orange County Business Journal Staff

Normally competitors, a group of mainly coastal Orange County resorts last month mailed a 30-page brochure touting the county’s seaside to travelers in Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, Texas, Washington, New York and other East Coast areas.

“We targeted the fly-in markets,” said James Bermingham, general manager of Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach. “There’s good awareness (of Orange County resorts) within California, but we needed to build awareness out of state.”

The move was the first marketing effort for the 10 OC coastal resorts that have put aside competition to promote the coast under one name—The OCeanfront.

Almost a year in the making, the group includes resorts operated under five big hotel chains, three independent operators, as well as three golf courses and four shopping centers.

The effort was launched with the help of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

“I can’t think of another example like it,” said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Ahlers said he expects the partnership to boost the county’s overall tourism industry, even if it focuses just on the top resorts.

More vacationers from long-distance cities could boost the average length of stay in the county, which is 3.8 days. That would generate more revenue for city and business coffers.

About 60% of the $7.3 billion spent by travelers in OC last year was from visitors who stayed in hotels, according to San Diego-based tourism tracker CIC Research.

But many visitors don’t believe OC has much more than Disneyland, according to a recent focus group study for the Orange County Tourism Council.

“Once those participants were told about the 42 miles of beaches, they said that would influence the amount of time they would consider staying in Orange County,” said Mark Feary, executive director of the tourism council.

Can OC compete nationally and internationally for beach-goers?

Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of PKF Consulting in Los Angeles, said it can be competitive, in a speech at a recent tourism outlook conference.

“Coastal Orange County has developed into a destination unto itself,” Baltin said.

The Montage’s Bermingham said the group hopes to build on interest created by television shows such as Fox TV’s hit “The O.C.” and others.

Why The OCeanfront name?

“Our beaches connect us all,” said group spokesman Cormac O’Modhrain, former general manager of the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, now with the Robert Mayer Corp., a developer in Newport Beach.

Hotels in The OCeanfront include Balboa Bay Club Resort, Four Seasons Hotel, Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa, Montage Resort & Spa, Newport Beach Marriott, St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa and Surf & Sand Resort.

Others include the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Monarch Beach Golf Links in Dana Point and two Tom Fazio-designed courses at Pelican Hill Golf Club on Newport Coast. Shopping centers taking part include Corona del Mar Plaza, Crystal Cove Promenade, Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza.

All of the members are in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach or Dana Point. Visitor bureaus in those cities also are partners.

One notable resort that didn’t join the group: the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. The hotel said it’s against its policy to join such partnerships, except in rare instances (such as the company partnership with Jaguar).

“We have had a leading presence in Orange County for the last 20 years and are in the final stages of a $40 million renovation,” said George Munz, Ritz-Carlton’s director of sales and marketing, in a statement. “At this time, all of our resources are being driven toward marketing the redesigned resort. We have and will continue to be a leader in promoting Orange County as a destination through our marketing and public relations efforts.”

To track reservations coming from The OCeanfront’s direct mail ad, a toll-free telephone number specific to the partnership appears on the brochure. The number isn’t used by hotels elsewhere.

The first response from the mailing was for a reservation at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort in Huntington Beach, said Tim McGill, Hilton director of sales.

Hotels and others in The OCeanfront are putting 50% of the commission from bookings back into the group’s coffers to fund future promotions.

“It’s a fairly unique approach,” said Robert Mayer’s O’Modhrain.

The OCeanfront plans to market to travel agents and possibly work with the California Travel and Tourism Commission.

“Travel agents say that (clients) today want more than just Disneyland,” O’Modhrain said. “What we’ve done now is just the beginning.”

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Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.
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Contact:
Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA
949-497-2680
scainado@earthlink.net

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