OC’s ninth and newest destination marketing organization (DMO) is establishing itself in Downtown Orange County to showcase the city of Santa Ana’s local pride and culture to visitors.
Travel Santa Ana was proposed in 2020 when Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce President Dave Elliott teamed with local hoteliers to bring back the city’s visitor occupancy after the onset of the pandemic.
With 17 hotels and motels in Santa Ana, the properties began charging guests a 2% assessment under the tourism and marketing district to fund the DMO.
The city of Santa Ana was incorporated in 1886 with 27 square miles and a current population of over 308,000, making it Orange County’s second largest city behind Anaheim.
“A city of that size to not have its own DMO is unheard of,” Travel Santa Ana President Wendy Haase told the Business Journal.
Haase spent the previous 11 years at Destination Irvine of the city’s chamber office and represented Huntington Beach prior.
Officially established in June, the organization currently has a three-person team with Haase at the wheel, Director of Sales AnaLaura Becerra and Content and Community Engagement Manager Maria Gonzalez.
The board is made up of 11 members comprised of six hoteliers and five city representatives including Julie Buettner, the general manager of Courtyard Costa Mesa; Ryan Chase, owner of the 4th Street Market; MainPlace Mall Marketing Director Ashley Kravitz; and the city’s economic development manager, Marc Morely.
According to Haase, the biggest opportunity for business the city can take advantage of, beyond corporate travel, is in events such as weddings and quinceañeras. With 78% of the community made up of Latino residents, Santa Ana can provide unique venues and coinciding hotels for such activity, she said.
“Travel Santa Ana can be that conduit,” Haase said.
The city’s 17 hotels total 2,463 rooms and almost 42,000 square feet of meeting space.
Other city destinations include the Bowers Museum, the Discovery Cube, and the Santa Ana Zoo.
The organization is also joining the OC Sports Commission to position itself as a site for future sporting events with a proposed three-year partnership beginning in July. Partnered with the commission, the city of Anaheim was able to land the Honda Center as the official site for the Olympic volleyball games coming to Los Angeles in 2028.
Santa Ana Streetcar
The city project making the most noise is the upcoming OC Streetcar set to run through downtown Santa Ana in 2024.
Construction on the track started in 2019, causing closure of Santa Ana’s Fourth Street. Pushback has been reported from local business owners who claim the project is interrupting customer traffic and halting revenue streams.
Haase shared that both the city and the marketing organization are in constant communication with locals and visitors about the construction, advertising that businesses are still open. OC’s Board of Supervisors approved a $1.2 million assistance fund in May for the struggling businesses in response to merchant protests from February.
A small block of Fourth Street reopened last month as overall construction is reported to finish by late fall
Back to 2019
Travel Santa Ana is in the final stages of its branding initiative and has a new website slated for the end of this year.
Santa Ana’s tourism in 2021 jumped 84% from 2020, according to a Dean Runyan Associates report. Travel expenditures in the city reached an estimated $308 million, with food service being the largest spending category bringing in $79 million. However, total spending was down 28% compared to 2019.
The current goal is to bring the city’s business and traffic back to 2019 levels by reinforcing its social scene. Through creating resources and marketing initiatives, Haase and her team will focus on local artists, the foodie scene, and family-owned small businesses.
A developing video series titled “Santanero Pride” will feature the city’s small business owners that have a decades long stake in the community. This project follows a marketing project from April photographing Santa Ana’s art and dining scene, which many locals took part in as volunteers.
“The residents of Santa Ana are a true representation of the destination, and I couldn’t have asked for better people to be a part of that project,” Haase said.