Orange County, California takes the credit for being the only US destination to have representation in the Middle East. Ed Fuller, president and CEO of Orange County Visitors Association (OCVA) intends to make the most of this first-mover’s advantage.
“Orange County (OC) has 46 million visitors a year, the fifth largest destination in the US, out of which four million were international visitors.
Europe is slowing down a little but Britain is a regular guest of ours. We have a very good load of Chinese coming in, we have a little of Latin America and Canada. Australia is one big market for us, long haul doesn’t slow them down at all.
“We expect the Middle East not to be the highest volume, but because of the length of stay between 30 and 45 days, we see great results. But as this is only our second year of concentrating on this market, I can tell you that our luxury hotels along the coast were filled and have never had as good an August as the last two. Correspondingly, the shopping areas also saw tremendous business results.
“We have even seen Mideast travellers move inland, away from the coast all the way to Anaheim with Disney showing growth from this market. So we have had a good year,” says Fuller.
MARKETS OF INTEREST
Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE, are markets of immense interest for OCVA, possibly followed by Qatar. “This is because there is a lot of airlift from this market: Saudia has three flights a week, Emirates comes in with the A380, Etihad has shifted to a 777 and Qatar Airways is starting direct service this January [they were already feeding the OC via Dallas with a code share with AA into John Wayne Airport] and you have Turkish Airways too.”
Statistics from Los Angeles Airport indicated a 33 per cent increase in Middle Eastern seats over 2014 and this has been achieved without the new Qatar Airways flight. This is the largest increase in Los Angeles airport this year.
“Clearly Disney is a big factor, but what makes OC different is that within 45 minutes you have Universal Studios, Beverly Hills, Legoland and Sea World. Las Vegas is only an hour’s flight away from John Wayne Airport.
“Anaheim has experienced a bit of a renaissances of late and transformed into a beautiful welcoming resort community, receiving about half the number that come into OC. Because of this, Anaheim is experiencing huge hotel build with 3,000 new hotel rooms by 2017, which will help support the numbers coming in from the Middle East. In terms of food there is so much diversity, from Californian cuisine with all kinds of cultural influence.
But also for the Middle Eastern travellers there is Little Arabia for those that are missing home,” says the CEO.
THE YEAR AHEAD
Perhaps the number one priority for the year ahead for OCVA is to have clearly documented tourist arrival numbers from the Middle East and the GCC to get more insight into this source market. “The State of California has not recorded numbers for the Middle East so far. It will be starting this year. We are encouraging the state of California to invest time in the Middle East as a destination. We want to see numbers well documented so we now a base to work from.
“We have seen an increase in rooms over the last year, so we would like to see an increase in guests. Our numbers mostly come in the summer – but we would like to see this be more rounded – this is happening a bit and visitors are now planning two and three visits a year.
“I think the market can see that this is a community that is really welcoming the Arab traveller. One of our first stops was working with Etihad Holidays and we hope to have more partnerships like this. We will look for any creative idea that we can to try and create awareness and growing interest.
“Clearing customs before you take off in Abu Dhabi clearly makes the experience much more pleasant,” he concludes.
– With comments from Chris Locke, Visit Anaheim and Karl Kruger, Fairmont Newport Beach.
By Kim Thomson
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.