Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to sell Ojai

Chamber’s marketing plan seeks to identify, attract tourists through collaboration, targeting

By Nao Braverman

A souring nationwide economy may have helped put some local merchants out of business. But the high turnover rate for businesses downtown and the occasional empty storefronts are not entirely new to Ojai.
About 92 local business and property owners met with city officials, and members of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce at the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club, Tuesday evening, to discuss how to make Ojai more attractive to visitors, without destroying its charm and character.
“Tonight is about unveiling some concepts,” said Mayor Sue Horgan. “We hope, particularly in these economic times, that we can come up with something that is useful to you.”
For about a year now, Horgan, fellow Councilwoman Rae Hanstad, and city manager Jere Kersnar, have been meeting with a Chamber of Commerce subcommittee to brainstorm ways to revitalize the local economy. Some of the results were presented to the business community Tuesday.
Among them was a tourism marketing study for the city of Ojai, prepared by two Claremont graduate students earlier this year as a class project.
Their research confirmed that Ojai relies on overnight tourists for more than 50 percent of its annual revenues, said Jeff Haydon, president of the Chamber of Commerce and director of the Music Festival, who presented highlights of the study to the group of business and property owners.
Most tourists come to Ojai in the summer, spring and fall, while very few come to the city in winter, according to the study. The students found that while the majority of visitors come to Ojai from other parts of California, the 14 percent who come from out of state and the measly 3 percent who come from other countries, tend to spend disproportionately more money than those from within the state.
The students also found that people living in Ojai seem to have conflicting views of what the community’s character is, and should be. While some perceive Ojai to be a tourist town, other think it is and should stay a sleepy town. Still others see it as, above all, an artist haven or a or spiritual community.
In conclusion, the students predicted that the coming year would bring more competition to Southern California tourist hubs, due to the softening economy. However, international travelers, who spend more dollars, are expected to increase.
Tourists are predicted to be from younger and older segments of the population rather than in the middle. They will be overall more educated and have less time, according to the study.
While Ojai’s strengths lie in its beauty and historic charm, the study found that it was lacking a cohesive identity, that visitors sometimes had difficulty finding where to go upon arrival, and that there was not a lot of collaboration among local businesses and merchants.
With that information, members of the chamber group subcommittee decided it was necessary to build a more organized plan to enrich the local economy, and address the issues that discourage tourists, said Haydon. To begin by identifying possible goals for a marketing plan, Haydon suggested that the business community strive to attract quality visitors, increase tourism, and realize increased tax revenue. They should also come up with a method of setting benchmarks and measuring their success, he said.
Rob Edwards, director of the Downtown Ventura Organization, presented one format that has been used as a road map to revitalize the center of a number of towns and cities nationwide: the National Trust’s Main Street approach.
Edwards, who directs the revitalization of downtown Ventura using the Main Street philosophy said that its concepts had been used in downtown Los Angeles, New York, Paso Robles, Washington, D.C., and Cripple Creek, Colo., among others.
The Main Street approach, which advocates historic architecture, pedestrian friendliness, authenticity and locally owned shops, can be tailored to suit Ojai’s needs, he said.
The approach advocates an organization governed by a board of directors and four standing committees. An organization committee would oversee the finances and the fundraising, and coordinate volunteers. A promotion committee would promote the district’s image and market it to tourists. A design committee would improve the look of the area by landscaping and cleaning up the streetscape, adding benches, etc. Finally, an economic restructuring committee would recruit new businesses to the district, encourage new local entrepreneurial ventures and help convert vacant underutilized commercial spaces into something positive and aesthetically pleasing. The committees would ideally be volunteer based. Generally the Main Street philosophy advocates a grass-roots community-led effort. While the city of Ventura did hire a director to coordinate their program, the payment was a start-up cost which could be sustained by merchants and local donors in the future, said Edwards.
Following the presentation, local merchants and property owners divided into groups and discussed what they wanted for Ojai, and how to begin to realize their desires for the local tourist economy.
The turnout was overwhelmingly positive and local business owners have said they want to continue to generate more discussion about this, said Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce.
One dissenting local business owner said he thought the Main Street program was unnecessary and wondered if it would require local business owners to pay a consultant to tell them what they already know.
Local residents, as well as business and property owners, will be invited to the next meeting about revitalizing Ojai’s commercial district on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at Chaparral Auditorium from 6 to 8 p.m.


Painted Hand Farm said...

Ojai sold out a long time ago in my opinion. One of the many reason I (and many others) have left Shangri-LA.

I LUV OJAI said...

and yet, you can't seem to stay away!

Anonymous said...

selling ojai would be easy with 1/ top notch school dist 2. top notch newspaper 3. top notch hospital at least a triage emergency room that is up to date none of which do we have.