Bowl Game Crowds Rush the Town

College football fans at Laguna Beach’s Marine Room Tavern react to the BCS game played this past Monday at the Rose Bowl. Photo by Jody Tiongco
College football fans at Laguna Beach’s Marine Room Tavern react to the BCS game played this past Monday at the Rose Bowl. Photo by Jody Tiongco

While Newport Beach reaped an estimated $10 million in hotel and restaurant bookings by hosting the college football championship played at the Rose Bowl on Monday, Laguna Beach’s hotels, restaurants and shops reported a bountiful holiday season as well, partly from feasting on Newport’s spill-over.

January traditionally sees a post-holiday slump in tourism from corporate conferences and events, according to industry experts. But streets here and in Newport were jammed the past two weekends, reminiscent of summer, and it wasn’t an accident.  It’s called marketing.

Visit Newport Beach, Newport’s visitor and conference bureau, organized logistics with Rose Bowl officials for the teams, marching bands, alumni and fans of the Bowl Championship Series game to stay and play in town.  Pasadena hotels were already booked with fans from the Rose Bowl game between Michigan State and Stanford the week before.

“From an occupancy standpoint, it wasn’t feasible to have everybody in one place for both games,” said Amanda Kliem, sales director for Visit Newport Beach, who put the deal together last fall. Rose Bowl and BCS organizers were looking for another location other than Pasadena. The eight major hotels in Newport as well as local restaurants and caterers were booked solid as a result.

When fans found where the Florida University Seminoles and Georgia’s Auburn University Tigers teams, bands and alumni were staying, they stormed the gates of nearby towns too, said Kliem. “It’s kind of the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy,” she said. “Once football central was established in Newport as the secondary campus in Orange County, I think it created the additional demands for both bowl games.”

Laguna apparently benefited from some spill over, but without a plan to maximize the opportunity.

The town’s largest hotel, the Montage resort, made no concerted effort to court bowl visitors, said Kacey Spies-Bruno, a spokeswoman for the property.

Local economic pulse-takers noticed the surge anyway.  “There were an awful lot of people here for the Rose Bowl,” said Kristine Thalman, executive director of the Laguna Chamber of Commerce.  Early holiday shopping sales were sluggish, partly because Thanksgiving fell later in November, thus shortening the holiday shopping days countdown, Thalman said, citing reports by local retailers. But closer to Christmas, restaurant and retail sales picked up with the bowl games pushing them over the goal line, proprietors and managers said. Official sales figures won’t be available until after businesses report their monthly sales tax to the state.

“Those two bowl games really brought people to Laguna,” said Hans Tittl, 30-year manager at Las Brisas restaurant, with its oceanfront and tourist-attracting view. “It was a very good two weeks, pretty close to the best ever.” Tittl could not provide estimates.

Cary Redfearn, owner of the Lumberyard restaurant in downtown Laguna since 2008, agreed it was the best year ever. The previous week, several Michigan State fans in green shirts, 400 of whom stayed at Dana Point’s Laguna Cliffs Marriott resort, stopped for lunch and dinner. On Tuesday, following the Seminoles’ 34-31 win, a party of 10 “exhausted” Florida State boosters came in for lunch.

Jim Samuels, general manager of the Cliffs Marriott, said the 387-room resort was sold out over both Rose Bowl games with a maximum capacity of 900 guests. The hotel offered shuttle buses to Laguna and back.

Redfearn, who for 22 years ran Newport Beach’s Oysters, said that restaurant always benefited from Rose Bowl fans. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I’m not saying Laguna Beach should’ve done more.  You have to remember, there’s a huge difference.  Newport has a Marriott, they have the Island Hotel, they have these big hotels that can accommodate very large groups and they offer them these group discounts.  I’m sure there’s something we can do to just remind them that, hey, it’s worth a trip to Laguna.”

Along with the big bowl games, Southern California’s sunny winter weather always scores points with visitors.

Peggy Trott, general manager of the Inn at Laguna Beach, knows to plan for full capacity at the hotel at year’s end. “As g.m.’s we talk about this, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is always like a summer week; it certainly does get busier around here,” she said, adding that her hotel didn’t need to offer any special packages to attract bowl game fans and families.

Next year college playoffs will change format and rotate to major cities with large stadiums.  Pasadena, said Kliem, will no longer be a venue.

So, what will Newport do next year? Count on the weather.



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