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Tourism: Firms including Disneyland back marketing blitz to trumpet California's enticements for vacationers.


Time was, California's monopoly on surf, sunshine and movie stars fostered a laid-back attitude toward its now-$56-billion tourism industry.

But the Golden State's share of the national travel market has been shrinking in recent years, and the state continues to battle image problems.

So some big businesses, including Disneyland and MCA/Universal, have come up with a solution: a marketing blitz for California similar to the dairy industry's ubiquitous "Got milk?" campaign, paid for by the state's tourism businesses.

"California can't sit back and assume tourists will always decide to come here," said Bill Ross, spokesman for Disneyland in Anaheim, a strong backer of the plan. "It's a competitive environment, and it's important that we are actively involved in marketing."

But the marketing proposal, signed by the governor last year and supported by leading tourism interests, has already sparked controversy because of the mandatory fees it would impose on tourism-related businesses.


Imposition of such fees is months if not years away and is contingent on a vote of industry members. But some owners of small businesses are already worried that big tourism interests will benefit at the expense of small ones. "I don't think they care about the little guy," said C.K. Tseng, president of Northridge Travel in the San Fernando Valley.

It's still too early to see how the idea will be received in Orange County, said Kathleen Spalione, director of the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau. But she predicted that the proposal will be a tough sell in beach communities.

"Small restaurants won't feel they are a part of it, and neither will small lodging facilities. . . . If they try to tax those, it will be a problem," she said.

Supporters, however, say new marketing campaigns are needed to spruce up the state's tattered image.

"Las Vegas and Florida do a much better job of marketing themselves than California does," said Terry Ashton, vice president and general manager of the Waterfront Hilton Beach Resort in Huntington Beach.

Millions of dollars are spent yearly by those places on splashy TV spots and other advertising. If California doesn't respond in kind, "it will hurt us down the road," Ashton said.


Tourism and tourism marketing are exploding worldwide, fueled by rising incomes, cheaper air fares and abundant flights, and by political change. International tourism revenue grew by 7% in 1995 to $372 billion, making tourism one of the world's fastest-growing industries, according to the World Tourism Organization in Madrid.

But while tourism in California is still growing at a healthy clip--expanding an average of 3% a year to $56 billion today from $49 billion in 1990, according to the California Division of Tourism--state officials are concerned that other states are crowding into California's market.

California's share of total domestic leisure travel has slipped from 12.5% in 1989 to 10.7% today, the division reports.

In Orange County, tourism was up slightly in 1995 following a four-year slump. A total of 39 million day and overnight travelers visited the county last year, up from 37 million in 1994, according to the Anaheim/Orange County Visitors & Convention Bureau.

But last year's figure was still below the pre-recession high of 39.5 million. "It's starting to turn around a little here, but we are not setting any records," said bureau President Charles Ahlers, who also supports the marketing scheme.

Marketing is the difference between a destination resort and an unknown backwater, advocates say. "All things being equal, tourists will go to some place that is in their face all the time," said Rosalind Williams, president of the Newport Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau.

But with an annual budget of $7.3 million a year, the state's Division of Tourism ranks 21st in the nation in terms of funding. "Arkansas is in front of us," said Lee Adler of the California Travel Industry Assn., a leading proponent of the marketing program.

A target of $25 million per year has been set for the tourism marketing campaign. By comparison, the statewide "Got milk?" campaign, supported by a coalition of milk processors, costs about $22 million a year.

The tourism marketing proposal is closely modeled after agricultural commodity advertising programs such as the milk campaign and "Beef--it's what's for dinner." These, too, are paid for by fees assessed an industry group.

This is apparently the first time this model has been applied to a diverse industry such as tourism, though.


Before the industry votes on whether to tax itself, it remains to be seen which tourism businesses should be asked to pay, and how much. Would restaurants count? Gift shops? What would be assessed? Ticket sales? Hotel beds? "It's a monstrous undertaking," Adler acknowledges.

A preliminary committee of government appointees is now meeting to sort out these questions. It will present a plan to the industry later this year.

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