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Survival to Revival: DMOs Push Up OC Tourism

HOSPITALITY: Local hotel occupancy rates in recovery

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Orange County’s tourism sector has been on a rebound kick.

Visitation numbers are up 30% since 2020, much to the delight of hotels and agencies that struggled harder than many other industries to regain lost footing due to the pandemic.

The county has room for improvement, with the local industry still 11% behind 2019 figures, when the area hosted 50.2 million visitors who spent $9.2 billion throughout the district, according to CIC Research Inc.

It will take another two years for tourism in Orange County to return to those pre-pandemic numbers, according to research by CBRE Group Inc.

Local destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are in revival mode to bring its respective cities back on track within that time frame, or sooner.

DMOs are responsible for booking events, strengthening community ties and promoting local development.

The organizations have set collective goals for 2022, which include new campaigns to reconnect with travelers, generating revenue streams to support their communities, and restoring the workforce, as tourism job losses outpaced most sectors during the pandemic.

The following are snapshots of some notable local tourist markets, and what DMOs are doing to bring more business to the area.

Santa Ana Launch

The newest DMO, Travel Santa Ana, was created in January 2021 and is nearing an official launch in June to promote tourism and increase overnight stays in Santa Ana hotels.

The organization this month added AnaLaura Becerra as its first director of sales.

Newport Beach’s Makeover

Newport Beach is a city in makeover mode with new luxury hotels on tap, such as the newly renovated Vea Newport Beach. The former Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa was purchased for $216 million in 2020 and is slated to open under the new Vea name next month.

According to a Newport Beach & Co. research report, “strong economic fundamentals indicate lodging supply to be restored to its 2019 benchmark in 2022 with an increase of 4% in 2023” when the Fashion Island Hotel’s conversion into Pendry Newport Beach is finished.

Those renovations, and ongoing demand for leisure coastal markets, will help send Newport Beach hotel occupancy and rates back to 2019 levels this year.

Newport Beach hotels were 51% occupied in 2019 with revenue totaling $187 million, according to Visit Newport Beach and Tourism Economics.

The city sees about 7.3 million visitors per year with an estimated $1.2 billion in visitor spending, according to Visit Newport Beach.

Arts Buoy Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa hotel occupancy was up 38% in 2021 over the year prior, while occupancy during the first quarter of 2022 jumped 63% from a year ago.

“Costa Mesa is looking forward to an exceptional summer which includes strong leisure demand and a promising fourth quarter,” Travel Costa Mesa President Paulette Lombardi-Fries said.

The city’s art sector returned this year with touring Broadway shows lifting the curtains once again at the Segerstrom Center of the Arts in January. In October, the long-awaited 53,000-square-foot Orange County Museum of Art will open on the Segerstrom campus.

Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, one of the highest-grossing malls in the country, saw annual sales surpass $2 billion for the first time last year. OC’s top shopping center is in its 55th year of operation.

‘Bleisure’ Travel Boosts Anaheim

According to a recent survey conducted by Visit Anaheim, 55% of travelers in the U.S. are combining business and leisure trips into one as both sectors gain traction.

In a national survey of 2,000 adults, 65% have stretched out work trips by either arriving at their destination early or extending their stay.

In 2021, hotel occupancy throughout the county was reported to be 4% higher than predicted by CBRE and reached 73% this March. Anaheim hotels reported 78% occupancy as of April.

According to Tourism Economics data, Visit Anaheim has booked 175 events, meetings and conventions for 2022 with 833,177 attendees expected for an estimated economic impact of $1.2 billion. The DMO expects next year to be even better as it gets more events on the books.

In the city’s last CIC study from 2019, Anaheim brought 24 million visitors to the region, generating nearly half of the 50 million visitors that came to OC.

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