Frequently Asked Questions about Visit Huntington Beach

Who is Visit Huntington Beach (VHB)?
VHB, formed in 1989, is the official destination marketing organization (commonly referred to as a DMO) for Huntington Beach, Surf City USA. VHB is a leading economic development company, which reinvests visitor generated assessments to create more local jobs, more visitor expenditures in local businesses, increased tax revenues for local government, and additional overnight visitor stays in our local hotels.

What is VHB’s Mission?

To market and sell Huntington Beach’s Surf City USA brand experience as the preferred quintessential California beach destination leading to increased visitor spending and enhanced quality of life for residents.

What is VHB’s legal organizational designation?
VHB is a private, non-profit 501(c)(6) organization. It is not a department of the City of Huntington Beach. 

Do local residents pay tax revenues that fund Visit Huntington Beach?
No.

What is the benefit of tourism to Huntington Beach residents?
Combined state and local tax revenues, excluding Transient Occupancy Tax revenue, generated by visitors helped to offset the average Huntington Beach resident's tax burden by $565 per household in 2017.

Is VHB an accredited destination marketing organization?
VHB has been fully accredited by Destinations International (DI), the world's leading trade association for DMOs, since 2012. Only 200 visitor marketing organizations worldwide have achieved this highest badge of excellence. 

How did VHB get accredited?
To become accredited, a DMO must demonstrate compliance with more than 100 performance standards in the areas of governance, strategic planning, stakeholder engagement/advocacy, finance, human resources, management and operations, technology, research and marketing intelligence, brand management, marketing, communications, sales and services, membership/partnership, visitor services, and destination development. Accreditation standards are set by an independent panel of industry veterans representing a diverse selection of destination organizations. Standards are regularly revisited and revised to reflect the evolution of best practices in the industry and accredited organizations are required to re-apply every five years.

What are VHB’s Core Values?

  • Professional & Quality Oriented
  • Visitor, Partner & Community-Driven
  • Visionary & Strategic
  • Creative & Innovative
  • Transparent & Accountable
  • Sustainable & Efficient

How many full-time employees does VHB currently employ?
VHB currently has 13 full-time employees.

Is VHB’s current staffing level high or low when compared to other DMOs and industry standards?
The average number of full-time employees for DMOs in VHB’s annual budget category ($5 – 9.99 million) is 25 FTEs (DMO Organizational & Financial Profile, DMAI, 2015). VHB employs 13 full-time staff, or 48% fewer employees than DMOs in the same budget category.

Have any of VHB staff achieved higher professional certification?
There are less than 400 Certified Destination Marketing Executives (CDME) in the world. VHB currently has one CDME and one CDME in progress on staff. DI’s highly respected 2-3 year educational program is offered through Purdue University and is the equivalent of earning a C.P.A., but for DMO professionals. One VHB staff member is also a certified IOM (Institute for Organizational Management), a 4-year non-profit management program offered by the US Chamber of Commerce.

How is VHB funded?

VHB’s funding does not come from taxes paid by local residents, including local property taxes paid by home and business owners. Funding is derived through a Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) self-assessment paid by Huntington Beach hotels. Hotels collect the assessment from overnight hotel guests that stay in one of Huntington Beach’s 24 hotels (2,600 total available rooms).

Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID):

Huntington Beach’s overnight hotel guests pay an additional 4% assessment for each occupied hotel room per night during their stay. The TBID assessment is not a tax, but a self-assessment, which the 24 local hoteliers place upon themselves for occupied rooms, and is paid by overnight visitors. TBID assessment revenues provide a more dependable, long-term, sustainable revenue source to market Surf City USA globally without any tax burden on local residents.*

How much TBID assessment revenue is dedicated to VHB?
On February 1, 2019, a new TBID management district plan went into effect that changes the self-assessment rate paid at check-out from 3% to 4%. This change will result in total estimated TBID annual revenues of $5.2 million to fund Visit Huntington Beach’s program of work. It also allowed the City of Huntington Beach to receive over $1 million in revenues for the general fund that were previously allocated to Visit Huntington Beach through Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT). 

How much is VHB’s annual revenue?

Approximately $5.2 million dollars in FY 2018-19, all paid by HB’s overnight hotel visitors. In fact, a healthy and robust local visitor industry, led by an effective DMO, contributes approximately $19 million dollars annually into the City's general fund. This, in turn, decreases local taxes paid by residents, creating and sustaining a winning formula of positive outcomes for the entire community. In short, tourism builds community.

What is Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) and how is it used?
Huntington Beach’s overnight hotel guests pay a 10% TOT per room per night. The City of Huntington Beach now retains 100% of all TOT revenues as of February 1, 2019. (Previously, VHB had received 10% of TOT visitor tax revenues for destination marketing).

How much TOT revenue is generated each year?
For Fiscal Year 2017-18, total TOT revenue collections were approximately $12.8 million. Starting February 1, 2019, one hundred percent (100%) of TOT visitor paid taxes go into the City’s general fund, with the exception of the three-year transition funds mentioned above.

What can TOT revenues retained by the City of Huntington Beach be used for?
TOT revenue retained by the City can be used for a variety of purposes such as street, sidewalk and parking deck improvements, police and fire protection, beach maintenance, park improvements, etc.

(Note: The average percent of TOT tax retained by City governments around the country is about 50%, with the remainder invested in destination marketing with the city's DMO. The City of HB retains 100%).

How much TOT revenue is dedicated to VHB? 

As of 2019, VHB no longer receives dedicated TOT funding.

Source of TOT/ TBID collection data: City of Huntington Beach. Source of Economic Impact data: “The Economic Impact of Tourism in Huntington Beach, California, 2017” research study by Tourism Economics. 

What does VHB do with TBID assessment dollars?

TBID assessments fund vital, important VHB program of work areas, which greatly benefit our community and overall visitor experience:

(All metrics below are a reflection of the 2017-18 fiscal year (October 1st - September 30th).

  • Overall brand marketing for Huntington Beach, Surf City USA.
  • Traditional advertising in key visitor markets with over 1 billion advertising impressions.
  • Digital and social media programs, including ownership and management of www.surfcityusa.com, with over 1.2 million annual website sessions, 2.4 million pages viewed, 63,000 Facebook fans, 14,400 Twitter followers, and 52,000 Instagram followers, 640,400.
  • Public relations, which generated 1,816 Barcelona Principles.
    • The Barcelona Principles refers to the Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles, a set of seven voluntary guidelines established by the public relations (PR) industry to measure the efficiency of PR campaigns. They were the first overreaching framework for effective public relations and communications measurement.
  • Destination sales (conventions, meetings, groups), which last year was responsible for sourcing 767 leads, of which 59,995 hotel room nights were booked into local hotels.
  • High demand publications such as HB’s official Visitors Guide, Visitor Map and Historical Walking Tour brochures.
  • International and domestic travel trade programs targeting leisure travelers via trade shows generating 211 in-destination familiarization tour visitors, and sales outreach to 935 tour operators and travel agents in 5 target countries.
  • HB Film Commission that works closely with the City’s Economic Development office to help generate 115 film permits.
  • Surf City USA’s Ambassador Program, with both a daytime program that served people in downtown HB from May to September 2018, and a new nighttime ambassador program that ran from June to September.
  • Surf City USA Shuttle (a complimentary bus service) available for both visitors and residents, served 2,207 riders
  • Visitor Information Kiosk at the Pier, which is open seven days a week, served over 49,031 walk-up visitors.
  • Welcome Center at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, which is open six day a week.
  • Free monthly partner information meetings designed to provide HB’s businesses with actionable steps to increase visitor generated expenditures for local businesses.

How many total annual visitors experience Huntington Beach?
The definition of a “visitor” to any destination can vary. The sometimes quoted annual number of 11-15 million HB visitors is loosely based on the number of estimated cars parking at HB’s beach parking lots. This number includes local residents. For example, a local HB resident who has a beach pass and parks at the beach 20 times a year to catch some morning waves is included in this informal tally as 20 visitors.

VHB commissions a more robust visitor research study every few years, designed to provide a deeper and more scientifically significant analysis of HB visitors. In these studies, HB visitors are defined as “anyone who lives outside of Orange County and who has visited Huntington Beach for the day or stayed there overnight.”

Non-Orange County resident visitors to Huntington Beach:

  • 2011: 2.93 million
  • 2012: 3.48 million
  • 2013: 3.57 million
  • 2014: 3.74 million
  • 2015: 3.91 million
  • 2016: 4.06 million
  • 2017: 4.26 million

Source: The Economic Impact of Tourism in Huntington Beach, California, 2017 Analysis. Tourism Economics. September 2018.

Which visitors are being targeted by VHB’s integrated sales and marketing plan?

Non-Orange County residents who desire overnight hotel accommodations in Huntington Beach (including Sunset Beach and all other non-resort hotel property locations) are the primary target audience of VHB’s very detailed and measurable sales and marketing efforts. VHB secondarily promotes in destination shopping, dining, tour and attraction experiences to help extend length of stay, repeat visitation and day visitation.

Who are these visitors?
The most recent comprehensive visitor profile study was completed in 2015. A new study has been underway with seasonal surveys completed throughout 2018 and will be released in spring 2019. Here are some highlights from the 2015 study:

  • Median age is 33 years
  • Household income is $71,800
  • Average number of nights stayed in Orange County is 4.4
  • Average size of visitor group is 2.5 people
  • About three out of four visitors (78%) are day visitors
  • Nearly 22% have overnight accommodations in HB, with 9% reporting overnight hotel stays, 12% reporting private home accommodations and a very small percentage staying in campgrounds
  • Almost three-fourths of visitors (73%) drive to HB, while about 25% travel by air
  • On average, HB visitors spent $310 per person, per trip in Orange County

Where are these visitors from?

86% are domestic US visitors with top geo markets of:

  • Southern California
  • San Francisco and the Bay area
  • Seattle/Portland/ Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest
  • Dallas/ Houston/ Austin in Texas
  • Las Vegas
  • Phoenix/ Scottdale
  • New York metro area
  • Denver

14% are international visitors with top geo markets of:

  • Canada
  • UK
  • Australia
  • China
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Germany, Austria, Switzerland
  • South Korea
  • France

What is the economic impact on the local Huntington Beach economy by non-Orange County resident visitor spending?
The last economic impact study of non-Orange County residents visiting HB was completed in 2018, assessing the economic impact of 2017 visitors:

  • Visitor spending: $620.7 million in direct spending, averaging $1.7 million a day. This is 28.5% increase over the past five years, from 2013 - 2017.
  • Estimated 6,279 jobs supported by visitor spending, or 1-in-17 jobs in the City.
  • Over $19.1 million in total projected tax revenue from visitor spending contributed to the City of Huntington Beach's general fund. 

VHB is currently conducting an economic impact study as the world is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. These results are expected to be available in 2023.

Source: The Economic Impact of Tourism in Huntington Beach, California, 2017 Analysis. Tourism Economics. September 2018.

How can I view a copy of the 2017 Tourism Economic's study, "The Economic Impact of Tourism in Huntington Beach, California"?

For more information, see VHB’s current Destination Marketing Plan and Annual Report (Fiscal Year 2017-18), the most recent Visitor Profile (2014), and other key research analysis.