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Ojai Valley Inn & Spa plans marketing blitz

By   /   Sunday, January 25th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Ojai Valley Inn & Spa plans marketing blitz

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The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is ramping up its marketing and offering a host of deals to lure vacationers during crucial mid-week nights.

Like the rest of the hospitality industry, the high-end resort is fighting for a slice of a shrinking pie. Tri-county tourism promises to be one of the few bright spots in a down economy, but it has become “more difficult to grab market share, so we’ve put together a very aggressive advertising program,” said Peter Bowen, the resort’s sales and marketing director.

The inn has launched a print offensive in Southern California, buying space in the Los Angeles Times, Ventura County Star and Montecito Journal, among others.

The push comes while state officials are revising public records that said the resort laid off 690 workers, a number the Business Times reported after several attempts to reach the hotel for verification.

The workers were not laid off; they were furloughed for 10 days in early December, Bowen said.

Because of a misunderstanding, the state listed the affected workers as “laid off.” The resort contacted state officials, and an Employment Development Department spokesman confirmed that the state is revising its public records.

“For the last few years, we’ve always taken a 10-day period between Thanksgiving and Christmas to do some work,” Bowen said. “We try to schedule everyone’s vacation then. We’ve been working very closely with the state to assist our associates with any reduction in their hours.”

But the resort has had to make cuts. Group bookings started to fall off in September, Bowen said, and the inn’s fine-dining restaurant – Maravilla – wasn’t drawing in business.

As a result, the resort cut about 40 of its 750 employees and closed regular service at Maravilla.

“Any good business person has to manage their asset. Seeing that there was a slowing in [group bookings], we realized we couldn’t continue to allocate resources to this segment,” Bowen said.

Of Maravilla, which closed earlier this month, Bowen said the resort is “repositioning [it] to give it more flexibility – for groups or vintners – and therefore it didn’t require a full staff.”

Meanwhile, the resort is reaching out to faraway potential customers in a push to fill up its rooms during crucial weeknights – its slowest time.

“Southern California has been our main feeder market for decades,” Bowen said. “While it’s a great market, it’s still a very weekend-oriented market.”

Marketing in faraway locales helps. “Somebody coming out from New York is not going to stay two nights – they’re going to stay four nights,” Bowen said.

In winter months, the Northeast and upper Midwest also offer free advertising assistance: frigid weather to drive weary vacationers to sunny California. The resort recently hired a Canadian firm to market it in that country to “people who have an appreciation of blue skies and 65 degrees,” Bowen said. “That might not sound that appealing to someone from California, but for someone from Saskatchewan, that’s nirvana.”

At that same time, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, like other hotels throughout the Tri-Counties, is counting on regional guests to reconsider air travel plans in favor of vacations within a tank of gas.

“There are a tremendous number of Southern Californians who, instead of going to Europe or Hawaii, are going to stay at home,” Bowen said. “Whether that fills the void we’re seeing is yet to be determined.”

Indeed, hospitality industry analysis firm PKF Consulting predicts that in 2009, Ventura County’s 1 million hotel rooms will see a 2 percent decrease in their occupancy rate, to 63.7 percent.

To help counteract slowed business, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is offering a 40 percent discount for mid-week bookings. And as always, tee times after 12:30 p.m. are free with a room.

Good deals might help bring in extra guests, said Jim Luttjohann, executive director of the Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau.

From what he’s seen in Ventura, travelers are looking for “that perception that I’m getting a lot for my money – because I not only can get there on one tank of gas, but when I get there it’s simple, it’s easy and I’m getting a lot.”

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