Throughout two and a half decades, the City of Santa Monica has certainly changed, but the “strategic approach” to attracting tourism has not. So says Misti Kerns, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (SMCVB), which celebrated 25 years of tourism service on October 19.
“I think what’s great is the amount of amenities and services that have grown within that we’re able to promote now,” she says, noting the city’s 3,500 hotel rooms, 400 restaurants, multiple shopping areas, guided tours, and other traveler-friendly haunts. “From that standpoint, it’s really allowed us to reach a broader demographic if they have particular interests; whether it’s the culinary or arts side, we’re able to meet that demand more so than other small destinations.”
Three years ago, SMCVB embarked on a branding campaign, building Santa Monica’s reputation “not as a city, but as a travel destination.” SMCVB has conducted focus groups amongst locals, clients, and potential travelers in cities such as New York, Chicago, and London. Kerns confesses that some of the responses were difficult to hear, particularly in reference to the coastline.
“The reality of it was that some people thought that we have a dirty beach, that our beaches are inaccessible, and there is a lot of area in need improvement,” she says.
Seeing a clear need to improve the reputation of one of the city’s biggest assets, SMCVB launched the annual Beach Summit in 2006. The gathering’s second installment, held on September 25, hosted over 70 interested parties, including city officials, community leaders, residents, and business people for a “brainstorming” session. In just one year, several of the ideas stemming from the meetings have come to fruition, including the creation of a “beach beat” by the Santa Monica Police Department.
“We as a community, in certain areas, have a perception, not a reality but a perception, of unsafe areas,” Kerns explains. By increasing police presence in the beach area, SMCVB and local officials intend to reinforce a sense of security for both travelers and locals.
The summits have also posited solutions for easing parking congestion and decreasing pollution along the beach. Some of these programs, like the “Trash Valet,” where maintenance personnel pick up garbage directly from beachgoers, have already been implemented. Others, like building pathways to the beach and increasing signage, are intended for 2008. Kerns stresses, though, that these actions are not simply for the benefit of increasing tourism. The programs will benefit locals as well.
“We’re not looking to make our beach a resort atmosphere,” she adds. “Nobody wants to change that.”
Santa Monica is a popular destination for international travelers, particularly those from the U.K., Germany, and Australia, and SMCVB has worked strategically to increase knowledge of the city abroad.
“We may think that Santa Monica is known everywhere, but we’re not,” Kerns states. “When you’re on a trade show floor with 500 other destinations and there are 100 buyers, it is very humbling.” Santa Monica residents may know their hometown to be a seaside jewel, but it’s Kerns job to sell that perception to potential tourists.
“Part of our job is trying to get them to understand where we sit,” Kerns explains. SMCVB’s strategy includes emphasizing the city’s close proximity to LAX, its stellar public transportation system, and easy-to-navigate streets.
“Then, they are ours,” she says.
Though foreign travelers, who will typically stay in Santa Monica longer than domestic travelers, provide a large source of revenue for the city, they certainly do not comprise the whole of the local tourist industry. SMCVB is also making strides to increase local awareness, particularly as an influx of visiting family and friends arrive for the holiday season. The organization is holding its Anniversary Sale at visitor center locations set to last through the end of January. Also, SMCVB has designed the Extra Bedroom Program, which offers discounted rates on rooms at participating hotels between November 18 and January 28 for Santa Monica residents. This is, of course, in addition to standard customary services, which include providing public transportation guides and information on guided tours and other attractions, all there to help promote SMCVB’s mantra: “Santa Monica -– the best way to discover Los Angeles; an unforgettable beach city experience filled with eye-catching people, cutting edge culture, and bold innovations. It is the essence of the California lifestyle.”
Visitors to Santa Monica
1983 2.87 million
2003-04 4.9 million
Money Average Visitor Spends
Total Amount of Tourism Spending
1983 $207 million
2003-04 $840.5 million
Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT)
1983 $1.1 million
2003 $25 million
2007 $33 million (estimate)
SMCVB Annual Budget
2003 $1.2 million
2007 $2.6 million
15 part-time travel counselors
10 full-time staff members11 board members