Originally published in the Orange County Business Journal
The new Orange County Visitors Association team—led by a former Marriott International Inc. executive—could help boost the nonprofit’s profile and efforts to market the county.
Ed Fuller’s appointment to president and chief executive fills a new position at the organization.
Fuller comes to the association, which coordinates tourism marketing strategies and efforts countywide, with more than 40 years of experience in various executive positions at Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott and was most recently president and managing director of its International Lodging Division.
Fuller, 68, is also president and founding partner of Irvine-based business consulting firm Laguna Strategic Advisors.
Gary Sherwin, OCVA board chair and chief executive of Visit Newport Beach Inc., said Fuller’s appointment is part of the association’s efforts over the past few years to strengthen its role as the marketing organization for countywide tourism efforts.
“We moved from a part-time administrator to really a more senior-level CEO who can take our collective efforts to a much higher level,” Sherwin said.
At the forefront of those efforts is the group’s China Initiative marketing program in the country, which included the opening of a Shanghai sales office this year.
There’s also interest in opening an office in Beijing, with more details expected later this year, Fuller said.
Sherwin said Fuller’s leadership as a consultant on the China Initiative before the association hired him, and his new role with the organization, have already positively impacted marketing efforts.
“Ed is such a high-profile person in the industry and internationally that he’s already opened doors for our county’s tourism industry and our respective organizations,” Sherwin said. “Because of Ed’s involvement [in the China Initiative], a lot of people want to be involved. We now have most of the luxury resorts partnering with us and more retail.”
Fuller’s appointment also came at the same time as the hiring of Chip Stuckmeyer, another Marriott veteran and Laguna Strategic Advisors member, as vice president of project management. Stuckmeyer spent about 30 years with Marriott in several senior-level sales and marketing positions.
Former OCVA Executive Director Anita Vanaman is now vice president of administration.
Tourism is a big business for any destination. It’s an industry that saw visitors spend $8.7 billion locally last year, up 12.3% from a year earlier, according to research by the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau and San Diego researcher CIC Research Inc.
Total visitors to Orange County rose 2.1% last year to 43.8 million.
The association oversees efforts that help the entire county, while various visitor and convention bureaus focus on boosting tourism in their respective cities.
It coordinates twice-yearly membership meetings and hosts an annual conference in May, in addition to various projects ranging from international outreach to working with regional tourism draws. It plans to consider marketing programs in Australia and the United Kingdom similar to the China Initiative.
“Individually, one of these destinations might try to do this, but by doing them together, we’re able to do a lot more,” Fuller said.
One of the hurdles OC’s tourism industry continues to face is distinguishing itself to visitors outside of Southern California who are more familiar with Los Angeles.
“Regional markets understand us extremely well because they come to the coast, and they come to Disneyland and the like,” Fuller said. “Some more distant markets, like the East Coast, Canada, Mexico, Australia, China—all the markets we’re trying to get into—really don’t understand what Orange County has to give.”
OCVA’s other focus areas include working with California State University, Fullerton, on its tourism program, along with helping promote Orange County parks to visitors.
It’s a full plate for Fuller, who said joining the OCVA made sense, given his hospitality background.
“We’re able to promote the destination on the whole,” Fuller said. “We’re also an advocacy organization that speaks for tourism and the value of tourism for the county, and we also do work on educational programs. We have loads of objectives. Now for a guy that was with Marriott for 40 years, that sounds like a lot of fun.”
Fuller’s appointment to the association in some ways brings his career full circle.
In 1972, he was sales director of the Twin Bridges Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C. That same year, he vacationed in Orange County and visited the Marriott’s Newport Beach hotel, which was under construction.
He went to the beach with a plan in mind to convince his regional director of marketing in Washington, D.C., to assign him to the Newport Beach hotel after falling for the area’s temperate climate and planned communities that he likens to paradise. He poured some sand into a glass bottle that he took back home with him.
“I waited for the regional director of marketing to ask me, ‘What’s on your desk,’ and he did,” Fuller said. “I told him that I wanted to be director of sales for the new Marriott in Newport Beach, and he told me he’d work on that, and then I was transferred to New York. I have kept that bottle all these years, and it sits on my desk.”
Fuller said he plans on going to the beach sometime this year to return the sand, because as he put it, “I’m here.”