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Westside Considering Its Own Visitors Bureau

The neighborhood says the L.A. agency has not done enough to promote its portion of the city.

November 06, 2002|Bonnie Harris | Times Staff Writer

A new secession battle is brewing in Los Angeles.

Business leaders in West Los Angeles are feeling neglected by the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau and are considering forming a separate tourism agency that would market the Westside as a destination unto itself.

"We're fed up with the lack of attention we're getting here, and we're losing precious tourism dollars because of it," said Jay Handal, president of the West L.A. Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber, which has 1,028 members, voted this week to explore forming a separate visitors bureau for the Westside, saying the LACVB has not done enough to promote its part of the city and attract convention business during the persistent travel downturn.

The L.A. convention bureau has been criticized in recent months for wasteful spending and for failing to recover a host of conventions that has left the city for other regions. Several downtown hoteliers already have called for the resignation of LACVB President George Kirkland, blaming mismanagement for much of the city's tourism problems.

Handal said the bureau also focuses too much on getting visitors to downtown L.A. rather than the diverse neighborhoods around it, and believes West L.A. should be marketed as its own destination with attractions that include the Getty Museum, sports and entertainment venues at UCLA and the Museum of Tolerance. West L.A. is about the geographic area from Rancho Park to the Santa Monica border and Mullholland Drive to Venice Boulevard, according to Handal.

To form a new bureau and pay for its operations, the chamber would try to claim its portion -- about $3 million -- of the city's hotel tax revenue.

"We have more than enough here to make West L.A. a brand name," Handal said. "We just need to do what the CVB has been unable or unwilling to do, and that's market ourselves aggressively. We certainly can't do any worse than what they're giving us right now."

But some hoteliers and tourism officials say breaking away from the LACVB would cause even more problems attracting tourists, including an overlap in marketing efforts and confusion for consumers.

At the Century Plaza Hotel and Towers, which is the premier convention and business property on the Westside, general manager Bill Hall said he does not support a secession from the LACVB and was unaware of any frustration among area hoteliers and merchants.

"What they're trying to do would be an absolute disaster," Hall said. "It's always easy to complain when times are bad. But acting so drastically on something they know so little about is really not a smart move."

Others said most consumers simply do not understand -- or care -- about the nuances of L.A. neighborhoods, and view everything from Santa Monica to the Mexican border as being part of the city.

"You have to think about the visitor, and giving visitors competing messages would be confusing," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "To the rest of the world, L.A. is Beverly Hills and Hollywood and Laguna and Venice and even Disneyland. Trying to separate West L.A. out from all of that will amount to nothing more than communication clutter."

LACVB Senior Vice President Michael Collins said he was surprised by the chamber's action and was unaware of any problems between the bureau and West L.A.

"I would suspect that the hotels in West L.A. would characterize our relationship as being pretty good," Collins said. "We've just never heard from this group before, so I don't really know what to make of it."

Handal said the chamber voted to form a committee to look into forming a new visitors bureau and expects a full proposal within 90 days.

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