Newport Tourism Hits Record Highs

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Balboa Ferry prepares to dock at the Balboa Fun Zone, a popular destination for tourists.
Balboa Ferry prepares to dock at the Balboa Fun Zone, a popular destination for tourists.

If there was a theme to the Newport Beach & Company’s annual Marketing Outlook Dinner held at the Island Hotel on Oct. 21, it was “All Systems Go!”

According to information presented during the dinner, the Traveler Sentiment Index, which measures the ups and downs of the travel industry, hit an all-time high.

Using a baseline of the years from 2007 to 2015, the index took a nosedive in 2008 but climbed back to a benchmark score of 100 in 2010, which means it reached its previous high.

In 2014 that number hit 111 according to keynote speaker Peter Yesawich, Vice Chairman of MMGY Global, a travel marketing firm with offices worldwide.

The good news is that “there has never been a better time to be optimistic about the tourism industry in this country, and that cascades down to Orange County as well as to Newport Beach,” Yesawich shared during his talk. “For the next few years, until 2017 at least, there is nothing to suggest we are heading in any other direction than up.”

Although many Newport residents travel out of town, we don’t usually pay attention to those traveling in to town. Tourism is now

Locals and tourists crowd onto the Balboa Pier to watch the start of the Newport to Ensenada race
Locals and tourists crowd onto the Balboa Pier to watch the start of the Newport to Ensenada race

the biggest tax revenue generator in the city, surpassing the automobile sales tax totals.

Americans tend to take less vacations than other countries. The numbers show that only 61 percent of us take a vacation, which is double the percentage of travel dedicated to business. What does that mean to Newport Beach?

“More people travel for leisure than business, which means a bullish outlook for Newport,” Yesawich said.

On top of that, the job optimism surveys show that more people are comfortable with their job security than any time post-recession. And this is the “single most accurate predicator of the health of the travel industry that we have ever found,” according to their reports.

Some revealing information was shared as Yesawich spoke about the longest-running travel survey available, called “Portrait of an American Traveler.” Among them is the changing demographics of the “typical” American traveler which is impacted by the largest demographic sector today: Millennials.

This young demographic, who are in their 20s and 30s, are getting older and travel differently that generations past. They travel to gain experiences. They stay at unconventional locations and are very thrifty with their money. They also do much of their research using their tablets, phones and laptops. Instead of using congregators like Priceline, Expedia and Travelocity, they go direct to the Marriotts, Hyatts and other name brands, but are loyal to none.

“These Millennials are (Newport Beach & Co. President) Gary Sherwin’s nemesis,” Yesawich joked. “When they give us great ratings but don’t come back we think that we have a problem. That is not the case.”

Much of the unpredictability is offset by the international visitors that travel to Newport Beach. Many of them were among the seven million visitors that spent more than $1 billion in our city during the fiscal year which ended June 30.

Carolyn Loretta “Lori” McDemas received the 2015 Rosalind Williams Memorial Service Excellence Award
Carolyn Loretta “Lori”
McDemas received the 2015 Rosalind Williams Memorial Service Excellence Award

Coincidentally, two days after the Newport Beach & Company event, the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce held its annual Economic Forecast Breakfast.

Esteemed presenters included Jerry Nickelsburg, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor of Economics, Anderson School of Management at UCLA, who spoke about the national economic picture. His conclusion was that the economy was “entering the Middle Ages,” meaning that the economy is strong with many more years of upside. “We are one of the few strong world economies,” is how Nickelsburg explained it and with “200,000 more jobs created monthly, we are now at 5.1 percent unemployment, which effectively means we are at ‘fully employed.’”

William Yu, Ph.D., a forecasting expert from UCLA Anderson School, drilled down the national picture to a more local Orange County focus.

“In the state of California, Orange County is very strong,” he stated, “and we are having the strongest job increases since 2011, and adding 3,100 new jobs per month.”

Lagging just behind Santa Clara County, home of Silicon Valley, and San Diego, Orange County is a strong third place finisher.

The third speaker at the Chamber of Commerce event, Edwin D. Fuller, President and CEO of Orange County Visitors Association, shared some statistics and addressed the increasing number of international tourists.

“Mexico and Canada are the top home countries for visitors, but China is a strong number three and getting stronger with an estimated one million tourists expected this year,” Fuller said. “Whereas many visitors come to Newport Beach and leave their money behind, the pace of Chinese dollars spent is over twice that of a typical tourist and runs about $750 per person.”

Much of that money went into filling 135,675 rooms last year which accounted for almost $73 million of that $1 Billion revenue, according to STR, Inc., which tallies hotel and hospitality data. The total number of “room nights” passed the 79,000 mark, which was twice the 2013 total.

“With tourism so important to the local economy, group sales and leisure marketing continue to be central elements of our work,” said Sherwin. “I’m so proud of the dramatic growth of more than 600 percent in room nights compared to five years ago, which points to enhanced economic health and quality of life within our community.”

Along with the Newport Beach & Company annual report dinner there was also time to honor local citizens for jobs well done.

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff was honored for his contributions to the tourism industry with the esteemed Partner in Progress Award.
Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff was honored for his contributions to the tourism industry with the esteemed Partner in Progress Award.

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff was honored for Outstanding Contributions to the tourism industry as Kiff received the esteemed Partner in Progress Award.

Kiff got the award for his crucial role in the formation of Newport Beach & Company, his steadfast support of the hospitality community and his valued leadership and drive to ensure Newport Beach is a first-class destination for visitors and residents.

“Dave is a champion for our beautiful city, and he also understands the importance of tourism to the city of Newport Beach,” said Sherwin.

Joining Kiff on stage, Newport Beach & Company honored Carolyn Loretta “Lori”

McDemas with this year’s Rosalind Williams Memorial Service Excellence Award for her remarkable customer service as an associate in The Marketplace at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina.

This award was created to honor Rosalind Williams, the former president of the Newport Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau, who lost her battle with cancer 10 years ago. Williams demonstrated the highest level of service to the tourism industry.

Nominated by employers in the hospitality industry and selected by the family of Rosalind Williams, the award acknowledges those individuals who make the Newport Beach tourism industry so successful.

At the Newport Beach and Company dinner, outgoing Chairperson Debbie Snavely with Marriott Newport Beach Resort and Spa passed the gavel to her Vice-Chairperson, Andy Theodorou, with Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina. Theodorou will chair the association until 2016.

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