CEO, Orange County Visitors Association, Ed Fuller

Ed Fuller, CEO of Orange Country Visitors Association, California

CEO of Orange County Visitors’ Association, California (OCVA), Ed Fuller talks to Panayiotis Markides about how the OC is extensively vying to attract Middle Eastern travellers to experience the destination’s high-end Californian offering.

TTG: Please share any travel industry trends you have observed, and how you are capitalising on these trends.

The travel industry has faced dynamic changes over past few years, with generation Z and Millennials now being major travellers.

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All market age groups are therefore increasing. The United States has seen the market increase from global source markets. While the USA has grown to 75 million visitors from countries outside the USA, the Middle East source market has almost reached a half million visitors to the US in 2015. We are looking for an additional increase in Orange County, California in 2016 as flights have increased providing non-stop service to Southern California.

We see an increase of young middle-class visitors. They are spending time exploring destinations not previously visited such as Southern California. The visitors are seeking opportunities to explore and enjoy the destinations of their choice and enjoy becoming part of their community experiencing several facilities, attractions, environment, and weather. We are observing an increase in multiple visits during a year and not just the summer.

Orange County, California is the single-most visited destination in California and the West Coast with over four million international guests in 2015.

TTG: What sectors is your business promoting, and how are you achieving this?

Orange County is one of the premier destinations in the United States and is renowned for its luxurious resorts and an array of retail options. From the mouth-watering array of top-end brands available at stores in Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza to the quirky garden-style shopping centre located nearby Disneyland Resort such as The Garden Walk at Anaheim, there’s plenty to suit consumers of all types.

Our campaign ‘OC and ME’ allows GCC residents to travel to the OC and experience the fun of Southern California by expanding its value-added discounts and vouchers programme exclusive for visitors from the Middle East. The expanded benefits are provided to visitors through the OC&ME card, which is provided free to visitors from the Middle East staying at an OC hotel or resort booked by an IATA registered Middle East travel agent signed up to the ‘OC and ME’ campaign.

In addition to the exclusive benefits that the OC&ME card already offers, such as complimentary VIP personal shopper experiences, gifts with purchase and discount vouchers at the OC’S premier retails destinations of South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island and Irvine Spectrum, the OC&ME card will now also offer an extended offering of value at South Coast Plaza which has increased its discounts to 20 per cent and expanded the number of retail partners, within South Coast Plaza, where the card is accepted.

Another sector that we are currently promoting is The OC & Sotheby’s ‘Own a Piece of Paradise’ holiday package to promote Orange County, California as a premier luxury shopping, holiday and residential destination for Middle Eastern visitors. The package has been created exclusively for the Middle East market and is the first of its kind to offer complimentary VIP shopping experiences combined with a complimentary and private three-day tour of Orange County luxury homes and properties that are currently on the market for private purchase.

In an effort to optimise the experiences of Middle Eastern visitors to Orange County, California, OCVA, with the support of local leading retail partners Fashion Island, Irvine Spectrum Center and Macy’s, and in association with the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding, have produce a free online training video for Orange County local business owners, community members and professionals from the local hospitality, tourism and retail industries. The video, titled Welcoming Our Middle Eastern Guests to Orange County, highlights cultural differences and teaches etiquette for communicating and interacting with Middle Eastern visitors. The video aims to bridge cultural differences and ensure that Middle Eastern visitors have an exceptional experience while visiting Orange County.

TTG: What are your key feeder markets, your emerging feeder markets, and how are you promoting you destination’s offerings to these markets?

The Orange County’s 46 million visitors in 2015 were 60 per cent from California cities and the desert. The most significant are Los Angeles residents trying to get to the lush beachfront community and escaping from the city atmosphere. Our four million international visitors are primarily from Europe, Asia, and Canada.

The newest market is the Middle East which has increased over the past three years as Emirates has increased their seats and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi’s airlines have introduced service to Southern California. This has been augmented by service through US hubs connecting to our own John Wayne Orange County Airport.

This year in October and in November OCVA is participating in the AVIAREPS Roadshow to be held in Kuwait, Jeddah, Riyadh; and UAE, Oman, Qatar respectively.

TTG: Is the MENA region important to your business? How are you attracting this region to your city?

The Middle East is a growing market and while it is a relatively new market to Southern California. California flights from the Middle East have increased by 21 per cent with over 34 flights per week. Currently, 2016 statistics are growing and should be a high water market for Middle East visitors to Southern California.