How does a city harness 70 million visitors? It’s an L.A. story -
The Griffith Observatory in L.A.

How does a city harness 70 million visitors? It’s an L.A. story

Words—Richard Cutting-Miller

L.A. will soon see more annual visitors than most countries do. Here’s how Resonance is helping the metropolis own its future.

A Tourism Master Plan is an investment that destinations don’t make lightly. It demands the deployment of considerable human and financial resources, and asks the destination to squarely confront the future: a messy, hard-to-know place of challenges, opportunities and many, many opinions. And yet, destinations increasingly understand that they can’t afford to let growth continue to happen organically—tourism is too important and the stakes for locals and visitors too high.

The growing realization of the need to manage tourism, plan investment and envision the kind of place a destination wants to be has led a wide range of DMOs to embark on tourism master plans with us: Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, British Columbia; Tucson, Arizona; Richmond, Virginia; and San Luis Obispo, California, to name a few.

Each master plan is an entirely unique challenge that makes demands of all the expertise we’ve gained in the past two decades in tourism, branding, marketing, economic development, research and real estate. Now we’re embarking on a plan for our biggest, most complex destination yet: Los Angeles.

Over the next 11 months, we’ll develop a long-term Tourism Master Plan for The City of Los Angeles Department of Convention and Tourism Development. We’ll facilitate the development of a strategy and plan to help the City meet its goals for increased visitation and for enhancing both the visitor experience and the quality of life of local residents and stakeholders.

While the scale of L.A. dwarfs other destinations, the goals of creating a Tourism Master Plan, and the process we use to create it, stay essentially the same. We set out to help tourism organizations look ahead by engaging meaningfully with stakeholders, producing insightful research, and then working with them to turn those ingredients into a strategic long-term vision. Doing so empowers destinations to anticipate, plan and manage their business.

The Walt Disney Center in L.A.
The Walt Disney Center in L.A.

A Tourism Master Plan for an Iconic Destination

In a mature, macro-destination like L.A., we’re not helping to invent or define the destination, the way we would a less-iconic and less-visited city. We’re helping their team understand and manage the effects of attractiveness: the challenges and opportunities of today, and the preparation needed for the increased numbers of visitors the city wants to attract by 2030. L.A.’s projection, it’s important to note, is an additional 20 million annual visitors by 2030, up from 2018’s record-breaking 50 million. That’s right: by 2030 there is a very good chance that the City of Angels will be welcoming approximately 70 million visitors annually.

Parts of the challenge are well-defined—L.A. has 15 Council Districts that are expecting guidance—and the 70 million visitor goal . Challenges and opportunities will be of a scale befitting the grand aspirations of the sprawling global city—2028 Olympic Summer Games, anyone? Then there are givens like the ephemeral L.A., the dreamy mystique that hangs over the city, creating a desirability matched perhaps only by New York. There’s sunshine, glam and noir in the mix—the cheerful midnight taco trucks of Johnathan Gold, the sinister walkup offices of Raymond Chandler, and, of course, the white heat of Hollywood, which never loses its allure.

So where do we start? Always, by listening.

Venice Beach vibes in Los Angeles.
Venice Beach vibes in Los Angeles.

Stakeholder Analysis and Engagement

We’ve just returned from a week of speaking to hundreds of tourism stakeholders in L.A., from convention planners to hotel owners. This stakeholder engagement is a critical first step in all our Tourism Master Plan development—it gives people a chance to be heard. It allows us to put faces to names, humanizing the process. Most importantly, it gives us a baseline sense of challenges and opportunities.

For instance, along with the 2028 Olympic Summer Games, we’re hearing about the excitement of bidding for the World Cup, the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star game. As in virtually every city we study, stakeholders are talking about homelessness and safety, which don’t affect the growth of tourism, but are reportedly having an impact on the MICE business. As in many key destinations, we hear about the need to manage overtourism: in L.A., the Hollywood sign is emblematic—as tourists clamor to take a selfie at the iconic mountainside attraction, quiet residential neighborhoods are being trampled. Is the solution to lift visitors off the ground and into, say, a Hollywood sign tram?

Los Angeles is an outdoor playground for locals and tourists.
Los Angeles is an outdoor playground for locals and tourists.

Public Surveys

Once we have a sense of stakeholder sentiment, we invite visitors and residents to have their say. We tap both for their take on the places they love best in the city, the experiences they enjoy now and those they want to have in the future. Equally importantly, we ask residents how tourism affects their quality of life. We’ve learned over the years that locals are key to success: it’s common sense to create a tourism plan that includes the people who make a destination what it is.

In parallel with the visitor and resident survey, we create a Destination Assessment that benchmarks the city against its competitors. For L.A., that will include domestic destinations like San Francisco, New York and Chicago, and global icons like Mexico City and London, Shanghai and Sydney.

A Kobe Bryant mural in Downtown L.A.
A Kobe Bryant mural in Downtown L.A.

Situational Analysis

The stakeholder analysis, visitor and resident survey and destination assessment are gathered together into what we call a “situational analysis” that gives a destination a clear picture of where it is now, with all its strengths, weaknesses and gaps. The situational analysis contains a graphic key driver study that positions what’s important at a glance.

Now that we know where we are, we start looking ahead to where a destination wants to go.

Visioning Workshops

Our forward-looking visioning workshops bring together a range of voices and perspectives from across the destination. We share the research and learnings about what’s important to visitors, stakeholders and residents. Then together, we work to create scenarios for the future that imagine different outcomes. We try to create a positioning that defines the destination of the future, articulates the visitor we wish to attract and what they come for, then describes the benefits of the experience of visiting.

Draft Recommendations

With the main ingredients of the Tourism Master Plan in hand, we set about making recommendations for where energy and resources would be best allocated. We consider Place (the development of neighborhoods, parks, public spaces and transportation); Product (hotels, attractions, convention center, etc.); Programming (festivals and events); and Protocol (how to manage and fund initiatives). Often, these recommendations are shared with the public through open houses that allow the destination to get a sense of local priorities.

Putting It All Together

With all the input gathered from stakeholders, the public, boards and steering committees, we create a final report that orders and contextualizes the information and lays out a path of action. By the end, destinations know:

• Who their visitors are and who they’d like to welcome in the future

• Key competitive advantages and gaps versus competitors

• Recommended positioning and vision to grow market share

• Summary of recommended development initiatives to grow the tourism industry, including goals, strategies and tasks, as well as planning-level costs, funding options and more

• Recommendations for how to define, monitor and assess progress

Download your free Tourism Master Plan Handbook now.
Download your free Tourism Master Plan Handbook now.

No matter what the scale of your destination, you need to consider a Tourism Master Plan so you can think about the future in a coherent and comprehensive way. We’ve made it easy to prepare for this important initiative with our free Tourism Master Plan Handbook. Once you’ve done that, we’d love to have you join our growing list of clients investing in this critical tourism management tool.

We look forward to hearing from you.