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Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta toasts participants in the 2023 Europe Mission
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California Travel CEOs Solidify European Relations with Multi-Market Mission

By Leona Reed 07/10/2023

An unprecedented delegation of the California travel industry’s top destination and business leaders joined Visit California’s 2023 Europe CEO Mission, which took place June 20-23, 2023, and included 11 events in London and Paris. Executives from five priority markets across Europe joined in.

The traveling group included the most Visit California board members attending any mission in Visit California history, including both outgoing Chair Gene Zanger and incoming chair Dan Gordon, who took the helm of the organization’s governing body July 1.

The mission was timed at a critical moment for the California tourism industry. The organization invested $7 million last fiscal year for a total of $15 million over the past two years, beginning when the borders reopened to jump-start recovery from the European continent. This mission focused on five priority markets: France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom.

In the current recovery climate, European travelers are the state’s primary drivers of overseas travel spending. Before the pandemic, 1.2 million travelers from the U.K. and France spent $2.7 billion across the state.

The full recovery of European markets is crucial to returning the state’s tourism industry to sustained growth—particularly as Asian markets continue to lag with slower reopening timelines and tighter travel restrictions.

In contrast, recovery from Europe is actively underway, driven in part by savings attained by consumers during the pandemic—but higher costs of living and a preference for short-haul travel has made the competitive landscape very fierce, creating the perfect environment for a powerhouse California delegation to rebuild bridges, strengthen relationships and move the needle toward driving new business to the Golden State.

In addition to Visit California President & CEO Caroline Beteta, the Mission delegation represented the diversity of California and included:

The Mission provided opportunities to foster crucial touchpoints geared toward bringing European travelers back to the state with one simple truth serving as the cornerstone: There’s no place like California.

The events planned across four days were designed to provide platforms to promote all that’s new in California, to amplify destination exposure through travel trade and media partners, as well as diplomatic and cultural channels. Visit California’s in-market agencies Black Diamond and Interface France were instrumental in developing the agenda for the week, executing events and bringing to the table the top contacts who can really move the needle in improving and increasing business from these critical markets.

Media partnerships with the Sunday Times and TTG Media in the United Kingdom and L’Echo Touristique in France, along with an out-of-home campaign with Havas Voyages in France were timed to launch the week of the mission, amplifying the delegation’s presence in the markets.

In the United Kingdom

A California welcome reception hosted by Deputy Ambassador Matthew Palmer at the Wychwood House in Kensington kicked off the week, and attracted a who’s-who of more than 80 C-suite British industry professionals, airlines, operators and top media editors. The guest list included executives from British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic and United Airlines, critical to improving airlift across California’s gateways.

The group was welcomed by Palmer, as well as top U.S. Embassy officials, including Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs Rosemary Gallant, Commercial Officer Christine Kelley and Commercial Specialist Stephen Brown.

The next day, the delegation convened at London’s famed Somerset House for a full day of activity, beginning with a press conference led by Beteta with 25 journalists from top-tier U.K. consumer and trade outlets, including National Geographic Traveller, Travel Bulletin and Travel Gossip. California CEOs spent time networking with media and engaging in interviews before diving into a Sustainability Symposium, presented in partnership with trade outlet TTG Media.

The panel discussion was facilitated by Pippa Jacks of TTG, and included thought-leaders across media, trade and policy from the U.K. and Scandinavia diving into topics to provide better understanding of the European traveler mindset and motivations when it comes to responsible travel.

C-suite U.K. and Irish tour operators and airline executives joined the symposium, which was followed by deep dive sessions with the trade to engage in structured dialogue around market developments, trends and intelligence gathering to help refine California’s tourism promotion strategies. The roundtables included leaders from British Airways, United Airlines, Trailfinders, Travel Counsellors, Flight Centre, Dnata and Abercrombie & Kent.

The day concluded with a showstopping event in the U.S. Embassy, presented in partnership with the Oxford Cultural Collective. The VIP Culinary Diplomacy Panel Discussion and Dinner included California-raised celebrity chef Samin Nosrat, author of Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, and star of the Netflix series of the same name. Nosrat was born in San Diego to Iranian parents, came up as a cook at Chez Panisse and other Berkeley-area restaurants and now lives in Oakland where she continues to write, teach and appear on culinary programs, including Michelle Obama’s children’s cooking show, Waffles and Mochi, on Netflix.

Nosrat shared her perspectives on California cuisine on the global stage on a diverse panel of famed voices in the British culinary world, including Evening Standard journalist and podcaster Jimi Famurewa; Asma Khan, owner of Darjeeling Express and star of Chef’s Table; and award-winning food writer and cook Melissa Thompson.

More than 80 guests joined for the discussion, followed by a dinner in honor of Nosrat, with the menu designed by British Chef Robin Gill to reflect the shared culinary values representing both California and the United Kingdom.

In France

The delegation traveled to Paris via the Eurostar for meetings with a Pan-European delegation of trade executives and media from France, Italy and Scandinavia.

A trade roundtable kicked off activity in the market, including 10 top French operators and airlines sharing trends and opportunities for collaboration. The French contingent included executives from Delta Air Lines and Air Tahiti Nui, along with both FIT and group operators.

The day concluded with a Media Briefing featuring Michelin International Director Gwendal Poullennec sharing his perspective on California’s culinary culture on the world stage, leading into a literal “Taste of California” reception event at Michelin-starred Apicius restaurant.

The evening event included more than 130 guests, including a 17-member trade, media and airline delegation from Italy, Germany and Scandinavia, who joined the French guests in enjoying a California-inspired menu, as well as wines from each of the Golden State’s famed wine regions, and interactive elements that included a “Good Vibes Only” fortune teller and street artist live painting a mural featuring scenes from across the state.

The mission concluded with a final panel exploring European Luxury Travelers, facilitated by Visit California’s French agency Interface Blaise Borezee. Panelists represented perspectives across the European markets, presenting trends in the luxury consumer space, including proprietary California research by MMGY TCI Research Founder and CEO Olivier Henry-Biabaud. The intimate discussion allowed the delegates to dig into motivations and predictions for the future of luxury travel from this important corner of the globe.

Click through to see a photogallery of mission highlights.


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