During a recession, when everyone is bunkering down and cutting back, it’s very tempting for tourism agencies to scale back on tourism marketing. Some destination marketing organizations (DMO’s) across the country and in California are scaling back, for example, on international marketing and focusing more on drawing tourists from their own back yard – reminiscent of strategies used after 9-11.

As the Chair of the U.S. Travel Association, and President & CEO of the California Travel & Tourism Commission (CTTC), I believe it is even more critical than ever that we find ways to keep our investments in out-of-state domestic and international marketing going. As President Obama recently said in his State of the Union address, now is the time for long-term investing, an opinion shared in MediaWeek by Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WWP Group. Sorrell said, and I agree, “When times are tough, it’s time to invest, not cut. This comes from years of research dating back to Ogilvy’s Alex Biel and Millward Brown interaction surveys. All show that if we cut marketing during such times, the impact is damaging and it can take you longer to get back to where you were.”

Despite predictions that tourism spending is expected to decrease overall about 8 percent in California this year due to the recession, CTTC will do what the state industry cannot do for itself by continuing our marketing efforts in key domestic and international primary and opportunity markets. We will be focusing more than ever on efforts which offer the highest return on investment, and more on strategic partnerships, such as Southwest Airlines, that will stretch our resources and impact, so that we do not lose momentum gained in recent years. Since many competitors will be scaling back, we can take advantage of this opportunity to have a “greater share of voice.” We are also doing smarter media buying, where you do upfront purchases to get the most cost-efficient buys. We’re also leveraging our advertising buys in the domestic market for more promotional content.

On the international front, we are maintaining our significant increases in overseas marketing started two years ago, since we still believe that this is our biggest growth opportunity in the long haul. For example, with the Memorandum of Understanding signed with China and the recent Visa Waiver launch in Korea, CTTC expanded California’s presence in the market with new marketing offices. We believe that California’s location and product make it uniquely positioned to capitalize on the explosions of these markets, so now is not the time to lose momentum by cutting back on marketing. In Europe, for example, we’re heading to Germany this month to participate in ITB, the largest travel convention in the world. We’re also launching an expanded German Web site, www.tourism.visitcalifornia.com, and partnering with Germany’s Toom Supermarkets on a national wine and food promotion.

We also are partnering with renowned interactive agency Sapient to upgrade all our websites to ensure that we are using technology progressively in the marketplace. We’re also using technology platforms, such as our new www.tourism.visitcalifornia.com site, tourism.visitcalifornia.com, to give partners easier access to CTTC marketing programs and data critical to their needs on a 24/7 basis. Most of our visitors still come from in-state, and we will continue to market to them as well with unique sponsorships and marketing opportunities like the recent Amgen Tour of California.

Right now, here’s what we know for sure about visitor spending in California. In 2007 visitors spent $96.7 billion in California, supporting jobs for 924,100. Although the 2008 statistics won’t be in until this summer, we have enough data to expect them to remain strong and be similar to the previous year. Approximately 83 percent of spending comes from domestic visitors, 50 percent of which is from in-state travelers. Approximately 17 percent of spending comes from international visitors. Despite the expected downturn in these expenditures in 2009, we are cautiously optimistic that if we stay the course and maintain our global marketing efforts throughout this year, California will be way ahead of the game in the long run.