“Modernization” can be a daunting word, but not for Visit Dana Point Executive Director, Jonny Westom. Back in 2009, Visit Dana Point began as a Tourism Business Improvement District (“TBID”) formed under California’s Parking and Business Improvement Area Law of 1989 (“89 Act”). The destination envisioned a high end, meetings focused, sales and marketing plan that would brand Dana Point as a premier meetings destination. With that goal in mind, the Board and the City chose limited boundaries set to include only hotels consisting of 196 rooms or more. The result of this decision was the inclusion of just four hotels to the initial Dana Point TBID.
In 2018, Westom joined the team at Visit Dana Point as the new Executive Director. In a recent interview, he expressed positioning limitations regarding the original formation of the TBID, which did not include hotels of all sizes or service levels. He saw challenges in how to tell the bigger Dana Point destination story to travelers from all backgrounds. During the interview Westom stated, “When we were just four resorts, we were focused heavily on group sales and affluent (luxury) travelers. This limited our ability to attract visitors from all walks of life and those who value our destination; to be the official destination marketing organization that is branding a small town, we had to be more inclusive”. And because of the organization only having a portion of the hotels in the community as contributors, it was leaving additional revenues on the table – revenues that can be used for sales, marketing and promotional activities for the tourism industry in Dana Point.
Managing finances under the 89 Act, which requires an annual district renewal, Westom explained the TBID was also limited in how far out the organization were able to book promotional programs, group, and meetings/conferences. Understanding the opportunity that exists with a longer term district and greater funds, Westom’s path forward was clear. It was time to unify Dana Point’s message of recreation and leisure, regardless of economic status: “Protecting the true destination brand is very important to me and to the stakeholders. All ships are rising with the tides, and I want to make sure that people of all walks of life can enjoy the amenities that Dana Point offers, including the ocean, weather, and lifestyle.”
The Dana Point TBID was successfully converted from an 89 district to a 94 district in November 2019, allowing Westom the opportunity to bring his inclusive vision to fruition. Under the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994 (“94 Act”), the TBID is now able to extend their marketing and sales efforts for the next five years. Additionally, the conversion has allowed the TBID to expand its boundaries: “When we changed the district, we opened the conversation to a larger constituent group, which will result in identifying solutions and new opportunities that would work toward helping each stakeholders meet their goals, while supporting the economic interests of the City of Dana Point.” Since the conversion, the district has grown from just four hotels, to eleven!
Westom is now looking into the future with the goal of establishing a mini city-wide group in 2023, as he states “part of our contribution would be upwards of $100,000 as it would secure over 5,500 hotel rooms. These funds could be strategically set aside to fund that program without having to worry about allocating those funds year after year. We couldn’t do this with the 89 Act because we didn’t know where we would be financially in three years.”
When asked about his experience regarding the transition to the 94 Act, Westom mentioned, “Because of the working knowledge of the Civitas team, the process to convert from an 89 district to a 94 district was smooth. John Lambeth is amazing, he’s so humble and good to work with. The biggest challenge, honestly, was meeting with the hoteliers and stakeholders, and bringing them up to speed on the opportunities the new TBID would offer. Civitas delivered a good step-by-step process on how to address our City Council and Board. Being able to secure business much further out into the future is critical for a small town.” For Dana Point, the decision to convert from the 89 Act to the 94 Act is turning out to be nothing short of transformative.