Friday, April 09, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hollywood: Protecting the Brand

Villaraigosa, Garcetti, LaBonge 
get lost on the way to Hollywood

CityWatch, Apr 9, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 28

One reason crime statistics are continually on the decline in Hollywood is because it's no longer necessary to steal things of value, one simply waits for the City's leadership to give them away.

Consider, for example, the priceless Hollywood brand.

Anywhere else on earth, those in power would protect a valuable asset like the Hollywood name and, if they had any business sense, they would cultivate it and maximize its revenue potential while investing in the stability and preservation of the brand.

Then there's Los Angeles. This past week, LA's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti, and Councilman Tom LaBonge joined forces to announce the unveiling of the Visit Hollywood 2010 campaign at a press conference they held in Universal City in a clear demonstration of disconnect.

This misplaced photo-op and tepid demonstration of a commitment to Hollywood was supported by a website (built by Universal Studios?) that includes in the list of "Hollywood hot spots" attractions such as Universal Studios, Universal City CityWalk, Burbank's Warner Studios, Culver City's Sony Studios, Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive, Mid City's Farmers Market, Anaheim's Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, San Diego's Sea World, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Hollywood is recognized around the world as a tourist destination and it is imperative that Hollywood's leadership do two things if Hollywood is to capitalize on the 25 million annual visitors who make their way to Los Angeles and who spend approximately $14 million during their visits.

1) Help the tourists get to Hollywood. Get a FlyAway service from the airport to Hollywood & Highland and get LA's visitors to Hollywood. Make it easy for them to find accommodations in Hollywood, keeping in mind that anyone staying at the W Hotel won't need your assistance but that the average family will.

First and foremost in any vacation planning is to establish the destination and then to find accommodations. Put a roster of hotels and motels on the website, not just a list of the Chamber of Commerce members.

It's evident that those in charge can't relate to the real-world experience of the average tourist who spends hours scouring the Internet for information on hotels, wifi connections, coffee shops, restaurants, clubs, and other quotidien necessities of travel.

Not everything is a "CityPass" ticket to TouristLand. Much of the travel experience is simply soaking up local flavor but that is hardly possible if tourists to Hollywood are promptly shuttled to Universal City where they can wander Lankershim Blvd. looking for life after CityWalk.

These are the elements of the travel experience that help a tourist select a destination, along with transportation options and walkability.

2) Help the tourists stay in Hollywood. There is no reason to encourage a tourist to leave Hollywood. In fact it should be the basic mandate of those in charge to do whatever it takes to make the Hollywood experience a full vacation experience. Yet on the website and on the streets, Hollywood does little to embrace the tourist and to encourage a longer relationship.

It's evident that those in charge haven't walked Hollywood Boulevard sans entourage or they would be clear on how confusing and downright disappointing it can be for the wandering tourist.

My wife and I frequently encounter "lost tourists" who are easily identifiable. Sunburned, carrying a thick guidebook upside down, wandering in the wrong direction, they murmur amongst themselves and stop frequently to look for wayfinding.

I confess to feeling a sense of pride because these people have come from all over the world to see my neighborhood. I also feel a sense of responsibility and take it upon myself to not only help them navigate the immediate obstacle to their experience, but I typically offer additional observations and suggestions, things only a local would know, often visible from where we stand.

I've steered lost Architectural students to some of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings, I've helped confused gourmands locate the best Thai Restaurants, I've translated the six-panel Metro maps to lost tourists, and I've explained to theatre fans that in addition to the Pantages, there a HUNDRED local theaters, all within walking distance of Hollywood & Vine. Through it all, I am reminded that Hollywood is truly the center of the universe!

The sign of a Great City is the hospitality it offers to its visitors. Los Angeles is not a Great City.

The average tourist is ... average. They won't be staying at the W and they won't be using the concierge service. They'll spend too much time looking for Hollywood and not enough time experiencing it. It's up to us to put a polish on Hollywood and to present it to the world as a complete vacation experience, not just as a Hollywood Sign photo op on Bronson Ave. before hopping on the freeway and heading off to friendlier pastures.

From Rome to Barcelona to Munich to Budapest to Sydney, I've traveled through Great Cities and enjoyed wayfinding that makes it difficult to get lost yet pleasant when it happens.

The arrogance of LA's wayfinding is simply astounding. The Metro's map at the new Hollywood & Vine station is misoriented and out of date, it doesn't have the W Hotel on it but it has the Department of Motor Vehicles? Just in case our visitors from Fez decide to register their motor vehicles?

In Seville, I hopped on a bus that took a big lap of the city so that I understood the lay of the land and from there I planned my vacation experience.

In Melbourne there is a bus just for tourists that simply takes a big loop around the city and points out the highlights to that the City makes sense and guests can plan their visit with a sense of perspective.

In Hollywood, a tourist arriving at the Hollywood & Vine Metro Station (imagine that they took the Flyaway from the airport to Union Station and then figured out how to navigate the tunnel to the Red Line and then got off at the Metro's Flagship station) will encounter no signage to indicate that they have arrived in Hollywood. No "Welcome to Hollywood!" sign, no "Walk this Way!" directions, no "You are our Guest!" sign. Nothing. Zip.

Correction, there are a couple of "No spitting, chewing gum, eating, drinking, loud music..." signs to let our guests know that we have standards, very high standards.

Hollywood is a great community and a little leadership would see Hollywood become an inspired and informed vacation destination, not simply a launching pad that sends tourists over the hill to Universal City before losing them completely to Orange County.

The photo-op declaration is the easy start but now the work begins. The simple call to action is for the people of Hollywood to treat our guests the way we expect to be treated when we visit Great Cities.

There isn't much evidence that Villaraigosa, Garcetti, and LaBonge are engaged in guarding the Hollywood brand or in maximizing Hollywood's potential as a complete vacation experience.

That means that it is up to the people of Hollywood to seize the reins and to make Hollywood a Great Host and Los Angeles a Great City.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

1 comment:

Evan said...

What a shame. Ive been to LA and did not feel that welcome, to be honest. By the way, if you ever need to ship a car anywhere, you need to look up Auto Shipping Network. They did wonders with me!