Record tourism, group and leisure marketing numbers took center stage at a recent event focusing on the economic impact the tourism industry has on the city.
The city’s global marketing agency, Newport Beach & Company, held its annual Marketing Outlook Dinner on Oct. 18 at the Balboa Bay Resort.
NB & Co. announced that the economic impact for the city, through group and leisure marketing campaigns in the last fiscal year, totaled $115.3 million, the largest ever recorded for the organization.
The group sales division, which attracts meetings and conferences to the city, generated a record economic impact of $81 million. That amount, which has grown 800 percent over the last decade, includes 111,305 room nights.
Leisure marketing campaigns resulted in 89,800 room nights, with an economic impact of $34.3 million, officials noted.
“I am proud that we have exceeded our goals which has created a significant economic benefit for business throughout the city of Newport Beach as well as the city itself,” NB & Co. President and CEO Gary Sherwin said in a prepared statement. “As stewards of the economic health of the city by way of tourism, we are thrilled that our sales and marketing efforts sold a quarter of the city’s total hotel inventory on an annualized basis.”
More than 250 community leaders attended the sold-out event, which had a theme of “Raise the Board,” a nod to the group sales team’s new brand campaign and the organization’s ongoing achievements.
Sherwin, who served as emcee for the outlook dinner, introduced Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill, who told the audience that the city’s tourism industry “supports 16,000 jobs and generates $43 million dollars in taxes paid by visitors.”
A “good chunk” of this goes to offset vital city services during peak tourism months, O’Neill explained. However, local residents benefit mightily from the increased police and fire services in the off-peak months, he added.
“If tourism went away, our locals would need to spend $44,000 per year at all of our 450 restaurants and retail establishments to maintain our existing quality of life,” O’Neill said. “That’s simply not feasible. Tourism is our economic insurance policy that brings in new dollars into the city, positively impacts our households, helps our small business thrive and our community prosper.”
A highlight of the evening was a panel discussion about issues shaping the tourism industry in Newport Beach, and the world. Panelists included Scott Hermes, president of Irvine Company Resort Properties; Kate Wheeler, president & CEO of Crystal Cove Conservancy; Hugo Martin, travel industry staff writer at the Los Angeles Times; and Butch Knerr, president of Irvine Company Retail Properties.
Martin jokingly warned the audience, “don’t base your stock buys on anything I say — I am not an economist.”
However, he did note that although the economy has been booming for 10 years, nobody expects it to go on like that forever.
“Looking at numbers such as visitations, 2016 was out hottest year in the history of travel and tourism. It has cooled but it’s still strong,” Martin said.
“We know the economy will change, but from our standpoint the jobs growth is still growing, but manufacturing makes me take pause, largely because of trade and tariff issues,” Hermes said. “But right now, for our industry, it looks good, especially for this destination. In August we were the strongest in Orange County — we ran 89 percent occupancy.”
“We are being cautious,” Wheeler admitted. “We depend on public funds. We just had our annual gala and did really well. People are still being generous, but we are still cautious. We’re focused on stewardship with current donors.”
As far as retail sales, Knerr said the Irvine Company had a very robust year.
“Sales per square foot are at an all-time high,” he said. “Sales have been great. Should the economy change, the properties that do the best are the ones in the best markets, so even in a down time we are in a good spot.”
During the dinner, Newport Beach & Company recognized three outstanding community members for their service and commitment to the tourism industry and the city.
The Rosalind Williams Service of Excellence Award went to Staci Beech, a server at A Restaurant who was nominated by managing partner of A Restaurant, Jordan Otterbein, for her continued selflessness, enthusiasm and acts of service.
“She is the go-to person. She can look at a problem and fix it,” Otterbein said. “She has an attitude of leading the way. She is approaching her ten thousandth shift, so she is (in baseball terminology) the Cal Ripken Jr. of the hospitality industry.”
Upon accepting her award, Beech explained that she started when she was 15 and has worked in the best restaurants in Newport Beach.
“I have been in this business for 45 years,” she said. “People ask me when I will retire. I say never, I go to work every day and enjoy it.’
The Dennis O’Neil Partner in Progress Award went to Joe Stapleton, president of Spinnaker Investment Group and chairman of the Newport Beach Foundation, who has spearheaded the foundation’s mission to foster young community leaders.
“Joe is on every committee and board in the city,” Sherwin said. “I don’t know if he has clones, but he is everywhere.”
He is humbled, honored, and grateful to serve the city, Stapleton said upon accepting the award, named after longtime civic leader and former Newport Beach Mayor Dennis “Denny” O’Neil.
“Denny was one of the first people I met when I got involved with the city,” Stapleton said. “Denny lived by example. He did so much for our community, I feel such a responsibility to carry in his legacy.”
The Local Tourism Hero Award went to Dr. Carla Barnett of Newport Eye Physicians, who made a remarkable difference during a visitor’s vacation.
For more information, visit newportbeachandco.com.