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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

New Tourism Chief Starts Fence-Mending With Hotels

New Tourism Chief Starts Fence-Mending With Hotels

By ANDY FIXMER

Staff Reporter

Named last week president and chief executive of the convention and visitors bureau, now known as LA Inc., Mark S. Liberman said his first order of business when he comes to work June 23 would be to take stock.

“And then,” he said, “I’m going to make changes as needed.”

While vowing to mend fences with the hotel community, Liberman said he intends to continue many of the initiatives started under his predecessor George Kirkland, who died June 11.

Liberman, a six-year veteran of the bureau’s board, was said to be the only candidate to replace Kirkland. He has been active in many of the bureau’s commissions, and most recently was chairman of L.A. Worldwide, which overseas international operations.

While Kirkland had been ill for several months, Liberman said he hadn’t been approached about the position until three weeks ago. “It instantly became clear he was a great candidate,” said incoming L.A. Inc. Chairman Richard J. Welch, chairman of law firm Riordan & McKinzie. “As we studied it, it just became clear he was the best choice.”

In addition to the bureau’s current domestic marketing campaigns, Liberman said he wants to expand the scope of the bureau’s international reach. Specifically, he said, L.A. needs to look more closely at its marketing efforts in Central and South America regions Liberman specialized in while an executive at United Airlines.

He said he would continue earlier efforts to open an office in Mexico City.

“With the increase in the percentage of international visitors coming from Latin America and Mexico, we need to focus in on that,” he said. “We’ll continue to reach out across the Pacific and the Atlantic without glossing over Latin America.”

The bureau will also maintain several national marketing campaigns, including a cereal box promotion that may launch in several weeks, Liberman said. Domestic campaigns will continue to dominate the bureau’s marketing efforts as long as international travel is down, he said.

“What we’re seeing is an uptick in traffic from across the Atlantic but we haven’t seen that from across the Pacific, at least not from the SARS outbreak,” he said.

Fiscal constraints

The bureau is in the midst of contract negotiations with the city of Los Angeles, which provides the majority of the its funding through a share of hotel room tax revenues. Mayor James Hahn, long critical of Kirkland’s stewardship, has already slashed by a third the funding the bureau will receive from the city in the 2003-04 year.

Most recently, 18 people, 20 percent of the LA Inc. staff, were let go June 13 two days after Kirkland’s death in a budget-cutting move.

The cuts also hit the top job. Though Liberman declined to say what his salary would be, he did indicate it is much less than the $350,000 plus benefits that Kirkland was paid. “It’s definitely not the same,” he said. “We can’t afford to pay as much as we did.”

The immediate challenge for Liberman will be to find a way to run the bureau with a leaner staff and fewer resources, said Welch.

Liberman said he understood that and warned that underperforming areas of the bureau’s operations could see more cuts.

“There aren’t going to be any sacred cows,” he said. “We’re going to identify our strengths and eliminate anything that gets in their way.”

He said the bureau could not use the budget cuts as an excuse for poor performance. “We have to make sure we turn over every stone here to ensure that we are doing everything possible to bring as many people to this city as possible,” he said.

Besides repairing what had become under Kirkland a fragile relationship with member hotels, Liberman intends to mend fences with the mayor, with whom he became familiar while working on Los Angeles International Airport master plan.

“You’re always going to have differences,” he said. “George did an excellent job but as we move forward and face new challenges, we are going to have to make changes.”

Hahn, he said, has a stake in the success of the bureau’s efforts.

“There are certain questions that will always come up and the mayor’s office should be able to ask those questions,” he said. “But we should be in a position to make them very comfortable with our answers.”

Though calls seeking comment from the mayor’s office were not returned, Hahn said in a prepared statement accompanying the Liberman appointment that Liberman’s career at United, particularly heading the airline’s West Coast sales and marketing operations, would be an asset.

“I look forward to working with him,” the statement said. “Mark has the tools to help the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau reinvigorate and grow our convention and tourist industries, which are so critical to our local economy.”

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