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25 Years of Dreaming Big: 'Visit California,' 2007-2017

By John Blomster 08/25/2017

Emboldened by its $50 million budget, the California Travel and Tourism Commission (CTTC) turned focus outward with a comprehensive global marketing strategy. 

The organization’s robust rural program— which to this day provides funding and grant opportunities for the state’s eight beyond-the-gateway regions — scaled significantly with increased funding. And those efforts have led to the steady growth of local and regional tourism improvement districts, with 98 across the state in 2017 and a combined investment of more than $227 million.

The organization’s growth also provided a platform to continue to take a leadership role in responding to major state crises, which came back-to-back in the mid–2000s.

The 2007 California wildfires prompted the biggest evacuation in state history — more than 1 million people across seven counties — and scorched more than 1,500 square miles. The CTTC worked closely with Gov. Schwarzenegger in crafting crisis response communications, leveraging the governor’s role as a California ambassador while conveying the message that California was “still open for business.”

The next year, the Great Recession hit. Despite the global financial crisis, hospitality jobs continued to grow. California tourism weathered the financial crisis better than most other industries: From 2009 to 2010, leisure and hospitality was one of only four sectors to post employment gains.

The CTTC held its first Outlook Forum in 2008, which was initially a gathering of staff and international offices. The next year, it became a full-scale conference that, by 2017, welcomed more than 600 leaders and influencers from around the globe as the industry’s premier annual event.

In 2011, travel-related spending in California surpassed $100 billion for the first time, making the Golden State the first in the country to reach the milestone, on par or above travel spending in entire countries, such as Mexico, India, Australia and Canada.

With additional offices in Italy, France, China and Australia, the CTTC enjoyed a global reach now in 13 international markets. Partnerships with organizations such as the California Wine Institute, the California Department of Food & Agriculture, CA GROWN and AMGEN Tour of California, among others, continued to fuel growth, even as the organization’s media buying power constricted with inflation.                           

It was then that the organization officially began doing business as something more personal and indicative of the work being done on behalf of the state: Visit California.

Daring to ‘Dream Big’ 

The 2013 referendum passed with a 93 percent approval vote, coinciding with the launch of Visit California’s China campaign, which Beteta and Gov. Edmund G. Brown kicked off in Shanghai during the governor’s April trade mission.

The same year, the Visit California Board of Directors unanimously approved the “Dream Big Vision” to begin the on-ramp to even bigger goals ahead.

Gov. Brown was instrumental in this effort, providing invaluable leadership as the industry decided to double down on its investment, shaping the legacy that would launch the Visit California program into the stratosphere.

In 2014, California’s travel industry voted to approve the Dream Big Dividend, adjusting assessment rates to reach a milestone $100 million in statewide promotion investment. The increased funding provided the resources to develop a robust global network and integrated marketing strategy that amplifies the California Dream around the world.

Localized international websites, global social media expansion and direct-to-consumer advertising are just some of the early results from the Dream Big Dividend, along with the debut of Visit California’s original content platform, Dream365TV. Since launch, Visit California has produced more than 115 original videos for Dream365TV, which has garnered hundreds of millions of views.

As the era progressed, Visit California was scaling up and accomplishing goals few could have imagined: The organization doubled the state’s total brand investment in FY15/16 to $51 million, and international spending increased from $10.7 million the year prior to $20.2 million. Travel trade and PR programs expanded significantly, including broadcast partnerships with some of the world’s most popular television programs like Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.”

Gov. Brown also made history by signing into law legislation mandating that the chair of the Visit California Board of Directors be elected by the industry appointees on the Board. And in Fall 2016, qualified Commissioners voted to elect Ridgemont Hospitality CEO Sima Patel as the organization’s first industry-elected Chair.

The innovations roll on as the Dream Big Dividend continues to fuel new developments:

Visit California launched a partnership with Time Inc., one of the most influential media companies in the world, and continued to refine audience-focused campaigns with the launch of the California Golden State of Luxury initiative, aimed specifically at the super affluent audience, alongside the evolution of passions-based and family-focused marketing platforms.

Celebrities and brand ambassadors continue to play a huge role, with stars such as Magic Johnson, Anna Faris and Jonny Moseley and more lending their influence to California’s tourism product.

Dreaming on Together

Walt Disney, one of the Golden State’s biggest dreamers, inspires Visit California’s work with his mantra: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” 

In that vein, Visit California’s most important guiding principle is also its simplest: Tourism doesn’t just happen. We must make it happen.

The idea connects every person and every trade across the state. Through shared challenges and great successes with its partners, Visit California has remained a singular, unifying force for the millions who live, work and visit the Golden State. 

Ultimately, that is the organization’s greatest legacy, one that stretches into a future defined by travel more and more each day: Together, California’s dynamic, diverse tourism community will shape the future of the state.

As the sun sets on this first era of Visit California’s history, it illuminates a new beginning for the state — one grounded in history, shaped by the present, and defined, as always, by bigger dreams for the future. And that future is golden.

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