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Van Gogh Exhibition Ads Brought Area Hotels $2.6 Million in Revenue

June 18, 1999|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although it fell short of expectations, an ad campaign aimed at generating tourism dollars related to the recent landmark Van Gogh exhibition in Los Angeles sparked $2.6 million in revenue at scores of local hotels, tourism officials said Thursday.

The 17-week exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art accounted for more than 12,000 overnight stays at roughly 100 hotels. That figure, however, was well below the 30,000 room-night mark that organizers had hoped for, said Robert Barrett, director of cultural tourism for the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"This is the first time we've ever done this," Barrett said. "We had no idea what to expect. Now we have a baseline."

The exhibition, which stopped only in Los Angeles and Washington, was among the most highly anticipated local art events since LACMA's display of Impressionist works in 1984. Called "Van Gogh's Van Goghs," the show featured 70 of the artist's works. In all, about 821,000 people attended the exhibition, whose popularity prompted museum officials to keep the event open around-the-clock during its final weekend.

The bureau, corporate sponsors and local hotels teamed up in November on a $1.5-million marketing blitz for the exhibition, running ads in several national publications and targeting thousands of would-be attendees via direct mail. Eight local hotels spent $25,000 each to be part of the campaign, which offered free exhibition tickets to anyone booking a room.

Ticketmaster, in cooperation with the bureau, kept track of Van Gogh-related bookings at other hotels.

But the campaign's efforts were hampered, Barrett said, when the exhibition, originally scheduled for 11 weeks, was extended by six weeks. Local tourism officials had based their room-night expectations on the success of the 1996 Cezanne exhibition in Philadelphia, which generated 30,000 overnight stays at area hotels and pumped $86 million into the local economy. LACMA plans to release a report on Van Gogh's local economic impact this summer.

Though the results were far below expectations, bureau officials are still pleased with the fruits of the effort, Barrett said. The organization, in fact, has launched a similar, though much smaller, campaign for the Diego Rivera exhibition at LACMA through Aug. 16. At a cost of $80,000, the Rivera campaign is focused largely on print ads in eight national publications. Two hotels are also offering free tickets with overnight stays.

Bill Doak, director of marketing for the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, said hotel officials were so happy with the business the Van Gogh campaign generated that they backed the Rivera effort immediately.

During Van Gogh, the Beverly Wilshire sold just more than 3,200 exhibition-related room-nights, bringing in close to $1 million in revenue. Although Doak expects less Rivera-related business, the current exhibition gives the hotel a certain cultural cachet for repeat guests who saw the Van Goghs earlier this year. "It's definitely something that has a leisure orientation that we can hang our hat on," he said.

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