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Our Laguna: Putting our city on the tourism map

March 03, 2011|By Barbara Diamond

Once upon a time, Laguna hotels were filled in the winter with Canadians. But the snowbirds from the north began flocking to Las Vegas, leaving Laguna's hotels with more vacancies than visitors from the end of summer to the beginning of June.

What to do?

Frustrated Laguna's hoteliers came up with the notion to publicize the city as more than a day at the beach — a destination resort — and turned to the Chamber of Commerce for funding. Led by the late Claes Andersen, hotel owners and managers originally saw themselves as a committee of the chamber, but a series of increasingly uncooperative meetings convinced the rebels that the chamber was not on the same page.

In 1986, the group incorporated as the Hospitality Assn. of Laguna Beach, which does business as the Laguna Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau. Andersen served as president for the first two years. Jerry Siegel and Surf & Sand Chief Financial Officer Manager Gordon Carter were the board members.

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"Laguna Beach a la Carte," a weekend event from Thursday through March 13, will kick off a year of recognition of what the bureau has accomplished in a quarter of a century.

"Our goal for 25 years has been the promotion of Laguna Beach," said Karyn Philippsen, bureau president for 20 years. "We think we have done it well. This year, we are up for an Art Stars Award, which shows how we work with the community."

The bureau members are hotel, restaurants and galleries, represented by board members in the business of catering to tourists and shoppers.

Philippsen represents Casa Laguna Inn and Spa. The 2011 board also includes Vice President David Shepherd, general manager of Inn at Laguna; Secretary Bobby Fader, June Neptune's right hand at the two Tivolis; and Treasurer Rob Quest, owner of Sundried Tomato. Blaise Bartell is general manager of Surf & Sand Resort and Carol Leenerts is chef concierge at Montage Laguna Beach. Mark Orgill is the managing partner of [seven degrees] and Sunset Cove Villas. Bonnie Wolin owns Fiori Gallery on South Coast Highway.

They are dedicated to bringing to town tourists who will stay at least overnight, eat in the city restaurants and hopefully do some shopping, particularly in the off-season, and to the preservation of city's charm and natural beauty.

Their goals are embodied in the slogan, "A Resort for all Seasons," adopted in 1995.

One of the bureau's most effective tools for reaching its goals is the Business Improvement District.

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