The new VEA raises the game, but there’s still something for everyone visiting Newport Beach


I was asked an interesting question last week during the quarterly board meeting of Newport Beach and Company by former city councilman Tony Petros. It was an important one, too.

With the opening this Spring of VEA (pronounced VAY-Ah and the soon to be new name of the Marriott Newport Beach Hotel & Spa) and its increased focus on luxury, where does that leave the average visitor who doesn’t have the means to stay there?

It’s a valid point because VEA won’t be alone in that upscale category. Other exciting hospitality projects will be announced soon that will likely follow that same strategy including some in the retail sector.

Does that mean that Newport Beach only cares about affluent visitors? Are we saying that if you don’t have the big cash to spend, choose another city to visit?

The answer is an emphatic no!

The new VEA Gary Sherwin

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

No one is saying that you need to be millionaire to come visit. But it’s also important to note that the essential ingredient that brings the wealthy and the budget conscious to town is very much the same. It is in fact our secret sauce.

That is, regardless of where the visitor stays, the main draw is our aspirational lifestyle. We’ve always been more than a city. We are a way of life that is desirable no matter what size your bank balance. With our superb Mediterranean climate, beaches, harbor and numerous recreational opportunities, they all create an envious attraction for people of all financial means.

You can stay and play here at many affordable accommodations including Short Term Lodging options. You don’t have to dine at Mastro’s and can enjoy some pretty awesome seafood at the decidedly more affordable Bear Flag. But you still get the benefits of our sunshine and the amenities of living in a city that embodies the ultimate Southern California lifestyle.

Even those people choosing hotels farther from the water and watching their vacation dollars can enjoy a pretty good time especially since it is only about 15 minutes to get to and from anywhere in town.

But why properties like VEA or Pelican Hill are important is that they elevate the game and our product throughout the city. It’s often called the Halo Effect which means that when one luxury property opens, everyone in town, regardless of price point, sees a benefit. When Newport Beach is increasingly seen as more of a luxury destination, that creates a greater aspirational appeal for all properties. Just having a Newport Beach address is enough for most hotels to increase their nightly rate over many neighboring cities.

Younger visitors are often aspirational in nature. They may stay at more affordable hotels right now, but they often desire to eventually stay at more luxurious ones in a few years. In the meantime, they want that coveted aspirational experience now. Retail has known this point for years. That’s why many stores, like H&M, sell trendy designer-like clothes at lower price points aimed at younger buyers. That doesn’t mean they won’t shop at Neiman Marcus in a few years.

The goal of Visit Newport Beach is to market to people who can benefit the community through their visitor spending at restaurants, shops, attractions and hotels. They don’t have to be millionaires, just people who are willing to stay a few days and visit some places in town while opening their wallet.

And those who can’t afford that premium experience now have plenty of other ways to enjoy themselves. Despite our community’s wealth, we are not an elitist destination. Newport Beach has always been open to surfers in vans, middle class families and yes, people of means.

Having a luxury hotel is one thing. Having a luxury destination that is accessible to all is another. No matter someone’s income, it is important for everyone to be invited to enjoy our special way of life.

Those who can do it at an impressive hotel with water views are certainly welcome. But if a visitor comes to town and wants a suite at Pelican Hill but it seems a bit out of reach right now, well, that’s OK because that’s what dreams are for. There is always next time.

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.