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Olympic Goals for Visit Huntington Beach

The Visit Huntington Beach (VHB) team is going for gold.

The city’s destination management organization, or DMO, is aiming to make Surf City a more notable event and tourism destination along the California coastline by becoming the beach venue for the surfing competition in the 2028 Olympic Games coming to Los Angeles.

“We’re in the big leagues now,” Chief Executive Kelly Miller told the Business Journal.

“We’re a high-performing team punching above our weight.”

VHB is one of the smaller city-focused marketing organizations in Orange County, tasked with driving visitation and spending through tourism marketing and event management.

The nonprofit is working with a team of fewer than 20 people and a budget that’s one-third as big as other such organizations in the region.

That’s expected to change with the city’s growing roster of larger events, such as Code Four’s Pacific Airshow at the end of summer or the number of surfing competitions overseen by the International Surfing Association (ISA).

“Special events are becoming a big deal in Huntington Beach,” Miller said. “We may need more internal capacity to operationalize our involvement at the highest possible level.”

The current team is already providing a notable foundation to build on.

“VHB embodies a community-focused spirit of service that is proactive and strategic,” Miller said, quoting the firm’s vision statement from its three-year strategic plan for the city.

“That drives everything we do from a value proposition for the organization.”

Visit Huntington Beach ranked No. 18 on the Business Journal’s list of Best Places to Work in Orange County for 2023, in the small business category (see list, page 40).

Big Leagues

There’s been a shift in the tourism bureau business over the last decade regarding employee responsibilities, Miller said, with necessary skills evolving from finding funding for local projects and supporting regional entities to being social media savvy, and understand how to post content that drives online traffic.

When the 2021 oil spill caused the Pacific Airshow to cancel the last day of events, Visit Huntington Beach had 48 hours to plan and lead regional initiatives and PR strategies to make sure the beaches reopened. About a week later, they did.

“Because of the cross training and leadership training, we could more effectively launch those programs in that period of time,” Miller said.

The organization recently announced a three-year strategic plan to execute 16 citywide initiatives from now until 2026 to set Surf City up as “the California beach destination,” with the 2028 Olympics in their peripheral vision.

Such initiatives include securing additional year-round sporting and city-wide events, boosting brand partnerships, and helping create new bookable spaces in the city.

“We want to make sure we have the team members that can [tend] to the needs the organization is starting to identify,” Miller said.

This means future expansion.

“There’s an opportunity to grow,” Miller said. “I have intentionally promoted people within this organization up the ladder as a way to inspire people to stay here.”

Developing Leaders

Miller sports an almost 30-year career in hospitality and tourism marketing, with the last 10 years spent running Visit Huntington Beach.

His leadership takeaway has been to ensure each employee offers input and is heard, and to maximize value for those employees.

The DMO holds sessions throughout the year to explore career development programs, areas of improvement or ideas on expanding VHB’s local tourism ventures.

Each employee has a chance to develop their skills and build new programs as a re sult, all supported by VHB.

This employee-first mentality led to the development of Huntington Beach walking tours led by visitor experience specialists and a self-guided beer, wine and spirits tour involving 16 local businesses.

“We’re good about intentionality and empowering people,” Miller said.

Mentorship programs such as the city’s Robert Mayer Leadership Academy, started by developer Robert Mayer, who built and financed both The Waterfront Beach Resort and the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa, lend a hand in employee development as well.

VHB sends one to two employees to the nine-month program that teaches participants about major organizations and city departments of Huntington Beach, from fire safety to the wetland conservancy.

Some employees have also requested additional training, which leads them to Destination International’s certification program for the Certified Destination Management Executive exam, taught through Purdue University.

VHB covers all costs; Miller and three other employees have completed it.

“If this is the foundation we’re laying, then we can promise [future visitors] that they will have a world class and memorable experience for years to come,” Miller said.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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