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Insights and Inspiration from the 2024 Visit California Outlook Forum

By Hayley Corbett

March 26, 2024

Poppy Awards 2024

As the sun rose over the stunning landscape of Rancho Mirage, California, hundreds of tourism professionals from across the world gathered for the annual Visit California Outlook Forum

This event, known for bringing together the brightest minds in the travel and tourism sector, was eagerly anticipated by attendees representing destinations, hotels, attractions and other industry stakeholders across California.

Amidst the buzzing excitement of the conference center, two figures stand out from the crowd – Noble’s very own dynamic duo, Hayley Corbett, Associate Director of Client Experience, and Danni Winter, Performance Marketing Director.

With a thirst for knowledge and a keen eye for opportunity, Hayley and Danni are poised to make the most of this unparalleled chance to learn, network and grow alongside their industry partners and peers.

The forum’s agenda was packed with engaging sessions led by a diverse range of speakers, including international destination marketing executives, industry thought leaders and media personalities. 

Join us as we dive deep into the key takeaways and aha moments that left Hayley and Danni inspired, energized and ready to take on the world of travel and tourism like never before.

Noble Studios and Visit Lake Tahoe: A Winning Partnership at the Poppy Awards

The Visit Lake Tahoe and Noble Studios were honored with the prestigious Visit California Poppy Award, recognizing our outstanding work on the “Awe and then Some” paid brand campaign. The Poppy Awards, which celebrate the best in the tourism industry, received hundreds of submissions this year, making the win a significant achievement for both organizations. 

Visit Lake Tahoe’s campaign stood out for its creativity, effectiveness and commitment to promoting responsible tourism, a testament to the collaborative efforts between the LTVA, its board of directors, marketing, sales and PR committees and the Noble Studios team. 

This also marks the second time Visit Lake Tahoe and Noble Studios have won a Poppy Award together, further highlighting our partnership and the ability to create impactful, sustainable campaigns that resonate with audiences.

visit california outlook

The Power of Play and Sustainability

The Visit California Outlook Forum featured two captivating keynote presentations that inspired and energized attendees. Pattie Gonia, a trans woman and sustainability advocate, and Jeff Harry, a positive psychology play speaker, delivered powerful messages that resonated with the audience and provided valuable insights for the tourism industry.

Progress, Not Perfection: Taking Steps Towards Sustainability

Pattie Gonia delivered an impactful presentation titled “Put Your Boots On, We Have Work To Do.” Showing up in a stunning flower outfit with the highest heels you’ve ever seen, Pattie captivated the audience with her message on how we can make California an inspiring place by encouraging people to try new things and help ensure a healthy planet for future generations to travel.

The four key takeaways from Pattie Gonia’s powerful talk were:

  • What advocacy really means: Small daily actions add up. If everyone put in just 1% more effort each day towards a cause they’re passionate about, it would have a huge impact on the world and jumpstart social change.
  • Progress over perfection: Inaction is an active choice, so don’t let the pursuit of perfection stop you from making progress. What matters is taking steps forward, even if they’re small.
  • Reframing our relationship with nature: We need to shift our thinking to see nature as a relative, not a resource. In an ecosystem, every part is equal and interdependent. As humans, we are from nature, not separate from it.
  • Connecting people to the planet: Destinations can help visitors forge a deeper connection with nature, whether by encouraging them to disconnect and enjoy the moment or providing ways to learn about the natural elements of the place they’re visiting.

Pattie’s presentation was a rallying cry for the travel industry to embrace a spirit of advocacy and recognize its potential to drive positive change by inspiring travelers to act with intention and see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem.

Pushing for Play

Visit California unveiled its new positioning as the “Ultimate Playground.” The campaign aims to showcase the state’s diverse experiences and attractions, from outdoor adventures and culinary delights to cultural exploration and family-friendly fun, positioning California as the ultimate destination for travelers seeking a playful, engaging and memorable getaway.

To bolster the positioning with California’s tourism industry, Jeff Harry, a positive psychology play speaker, gave a fun and engaging presentation on “The Power of Play.” He encouraged attendees to embrace play in their daily lives, both at work and at home. Here are a few key points from his talk:

  • The “Flow State,” where challenge meets skill, is where deep engagement and enjoyment happen. Jeff shared how Google’s “20% Time” policy, which allowed employees to spend 20% of their work hours on passion projects, led to innovative products like Gmail and AdSense.
  • To incorporate play into brainstorming sessions, Jeff suggested having team members identify their unique “play styles.” This involves reflecting on a joyful childhood play memory, extracting three keywords that capture the essence of that experience (e.g., imagination, adventure, connection), and using those play styles as prompts for creativity.
  • Destinations can leverage the power of play by infusing playful elements into their marketing campaigns and visitor experiences. This can help create more engaging, memorable interactions that forge deeper connections between travelers and the local environment and culture.

By embracing the themes of sustainability and play highlighted in Pattie Gonia and Jeff Harry’s presentations, all of California’s DMOs have an exciting opportunity to create impactful campaigns and experiences that resonate with visitors while contributing to a brighter future for travel and tourism.

2024 visit california outlook

Navigating Barriers to International Travel

It wasn’t all play time at Outlook, though. 

A thought-provoking “National and Global Perspectives” session featuring Caroline Beteta (President and CEO of Visit California), Geoff Freeman (President and CEO of U.S. Travel Association) and Julia Simpson (President and CEO of World Travel & Tourism Council) delved into the current challenges facing international travel to the United States. 

The panelists highlighted several barriers that are hindering the international visitor experience and impacting the country’s competitiveness in the global tourism market:

  • Lengthy visa processing times: Some travelers are waiting up to 170 days or more for visa approval. This delay often leads potential visitors to choose alternative destinations with more streamlined entry processes.
  • Customs delays: Upon arrival in the U.S., international travelers frequently face customs delays of two hours or longer. This further detracts from their overall experience and can lead to missed connections or lost time at their destination.
  • Negative perceptions surrounding safety: Concerns about crime rates and safety in the U.S. deter international visitors—these negative perceptions, whether based on reality or media portrayal, can influence destination choice.
  • Competition from other countries: Due to these challenges, other countries are seizing the opportunity to gain market share by offering easier entry, such as visa-free travel. This puts the U.S. at a disadvantage in attracting international visitors.

Travel and tourism play a vital role in the nation’s economy, employing 17 million people and accounting for approximately half of California’s population. To address these issues and remain competitive, the speakers emphasized the need for the travel and tourism industry to advocate for policy changes to improve the international travel experience, such as streamlining visa processes and enhancing airport efficiency.

From the U.K. to the U.A.E.: Trends and Opportunities from Visit California’s International Representatives

The Visit California Outlook Forum provided valuable insights into key international markets, highlighting unique trends, preferences and opportunities for the state’s tourism industry. The conference featured an “Around the World” session where Visit California’s international representatives shared market-specific knowledge and forecasts to help inform strategic planning and targeted marketing efforts.

  • United Kingdom: American sports, particularly the NFL and NBA, are hugely popular among U.K. travelers. The 2026 FIFA World Cup, set to take place in the U.S., is expected to drive significant visitation from the U.K. market.
  • Germany: German travelers increasingly seek off-the-beaten-path, authentic local experiences in rural destinations. They are also strongly drawn to sustainable travel options and appreciate destinations that prioritize environmental responsibility.
  • United Arab Emirates: When marketing to travelers from the U.A.E., it is important to consider cultural norms and sensitivities. This includes avoiding images with people and refraining from showcasing pork or alcohol in promotional materials.
  • Italy: Italian travelers place a high value on family, relationships and exclusive interactions. They appreciate opportunities to connect with locals, such as chef meet-and-greets or personalized experiences.
  • France: France is currently the most visited country in the world, and its tourism industry is a leader in sustainable practices. French travelers are increasingly conscious of their environmental impact and seek destinations that align with their values.
  • China: After experiencing prolonged lockdowns, Chinese travelers have a pent-up demand for outdoor experiences and natural landscapes. The recent Winter Olympics have also fueled a growing interest in snow tourism in this market.
  • Japan: As of 2023, visitation from Japan remains at just 25% of pre-pandemic levels, largely due to limited airlift capacity. However, industry experts predict 2024 will be a significant recovery year for Japanese travel to the U.S.
  • Korea: The MLB opening game in Seoul highlights a growing opportunity for sports tourism among Korean travelers. This market has shown a strong interest in U.S. sporting events and experiences.
  • Australia: As a relatively new country for Visit California, many Australian residents took advantage of the post-lockdown period to travel internationally and reconnect with family. However, the industry anticipates a resurgence in international leisure travel from Australia in 2024.
  • Canada: While Canadian travelers are cutting back on everyday spending due to economic factors, they continue to prioritize travel. This market is also the most likely to utilize the services of travel advisors when planning their trips.
  • Mexico: Family travel is a significant driver for the Mexican market, and California currently captures an impressive 50% of all Mexican visitation to the U.S. 

From Inspiration to Action: Implementing Outlook Forum Learnings

The Visit California Outlook Forum showcased the state’s enduring commitment to maintaining its position as a trailblazer in the global tourism industry while also highlighting the tremendous potential for growth in international markets. 

The conference underscored the importance of embracing sustainability and advocating for positive change as essential pillars of the industry’s future success. 

By leveraging the knowledge and connections acquired at the conference, Noble Studios is ready to significantly impact the future of California’s travel and tourism landscape, helping to shape the industry for years to come. Contact us if you want in.

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