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Lunar New Year – The Right Way

From the Publisher Clif Smith

Promoting local business is the assigned task of the Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau.  The CVB and the City of Beverly Hills host a fine Chinese New Year celebration tomorrow from 4:30 to 5:30 pm in the 200 block of Rodeo Drive.  All are invited to attend.  All CVB activities are funded by the City’s “Transient Occupancy Tax,” or “TOT.”

Nearly 30 years ago, business owners combined to promote an increase in the TOT with the promise that the City would devote the increase to marketing and promoting Beverly Hills business.

Like at last year’s event, you will be able to see the lion dance, Chinese acrobats, and other entertainment.  Gifts, too.  China has become a major source of business for Beverly Hills and this is the City’s way of recognizing this tradition.  This year it’s “The Year of the Horse.”  Come see the massive horse sculpture by renowned artist Deborah Butterfield resting comfortably at 2 Rodeo.  Kudos to 2 Rodeo’s Bill Wiley for hosting the horse and taking good care of it.

The CVB is an independent non-profit that contracts with the City of Beverly Hills to promote tourism, shopping and dining in Beverly Hills.   Our major hotels are enjoying record-breaking occupancy – a testament to their fine services.  No other place coming close to the size of Beverly Hills can boast such fine Five-and Four-Star hotels as Beverly Hills.  The “Fives” – The Peninsula headed by Offer Nissenbaum; The Beverly Hills Hotel led by Ed Mady; L’Ermitage directed by Sal Abaunza; and the newest Montage Beverly Hills led by Hermann Elger.  The “Fours” – The Beverly Hilton headed by Sandy Murphy, and The Beverly Wilshire led by Ben Trodd.   We boast other fine hotels such as the Luxe on Rodeo Drive (Marcus Mueller), the Thompson and more.

These set the standard for residents, visitors and businesses alike.

A unique feature of Beverly Hills is the CVB, which coordinates and acts as a prime mover for tourism, shoppers and diners alike.  Each major hotelier is a director, as are retail, dining and publishing executives (yours, truly).  The independent CVB was set up about  about six years ago, when it was removed from the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.  After reports of serious financial mismanagement in The Courier (its head was paid $300,000), the City Council commissioned an independent study of the CVB.  That study found that the task of a civic visitors bureau was incompatible with a chamber of commerce.  Then then-paid head of the Chamber had stated publicly that “local business” was not a priority for him – only out-of-state tourists.   After a months-long investigation, the consultants could find only Avalon, Catalina Island, and Taos, New Mexico, that combined the two tasks of visitors bureau and chamber of commerce.  (Avalon said it did not have enough people for two different organizations).  The consultants reported that the Chamber was mainly concerned with raising money to pay its staff, rather than promoting local business.  A big part of the problem was that the Chamber was caught diverting money from its City contract to pay its staff, but that part is past history.

Today, the CVB employs less City money that it received under the Chamber of Commerce but acts as an excellent catalyst for promoting all of Beverly Hills.  As Elger of Montage told a recent meeting, “I’ve never been in a city where the major hoteliers cooperated so well to promote the entire destination.”  The major hoteliers will join forces at their own expense in Shanghai later this year to host a reception for luxury Chinese travelers.  The CVB will fund the party, but the hoteliers will travel and be accommodated at their own expense.  All just combined collectively to promote the”Suite 100” initiative in honor of the Beverly Hills Centennial – the first time this has ever happened in Beverly Hills.  The initiative was organized and led by the CVB, headed by Julie Wagner, a former Hilton Hotels executive.

The results?  Revenues are up about 10 percent vs. local industry averages of 4 percent. Thus the City’s tax take is up. Hotel guests go dining and shopping, but the local 9021X zip codes used to provide about 42 percent of the City’s total sales revenues from all sources.   That figure has dropped, which is not surprising since local marketing has been ignored until now.

To address this, the City Council just reinstated its traditional mid-year award of increased TOT funds to the CVB to resume this part of the CVB’s mission.  Historically, the council boosted the CVB’s budget each quarter if the TOT increased.

It’s good to see the council again believes that promoting shopping and dining to our local residents is important, too.  To show its appreciation, the CVB – along with sponsors 2 Rodeo, East West Bank, The Courier, the San Marino Tribune and the Sing Tao Daily – invite everyone to come out on Rodeo Drive tomorrow afternoon.  So, Gong Xi Fa Cai (as they say in Beijing) or Gong Hey Fat Choy (as they say in Shanghai).

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