Tuesday, May 31 , 2016, 4:24 pm | Mostly Cloudy 62º

Tourism Luncheon Marks Launch of ‘I AM Santa Barbara County’ Branding Campaign

Visit Santa Barbara, hosting its annual general meeting, designs a destination-training program for presenting a unified message

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

So many locals regularly talk up the Santa Barbara region that leaders in the hospitality industry have designed a training program to better prepare those delivering the message.

To be more exact, one unified — yet braggy — message highlighting the local lifestyle and economic impact of tourism.

The “I AM Santa Barbara County” program was launched Wednesday at Visit Santa Barbara’s annual general meeting and luncheon at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, handily coinciding with National Travel & Tourism Week.

Visit Santa Barbara President/CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes acknowledged tourism’s contributions to the area and looked back on a year that included a major rebranding and renaming of her own organization.

One out of nine jobs in the United States depends on tourism, she said, with more than 12,000 of them in Santa Barbara.

The destination-training program will target those employees, and offer free three-hour, hands-on sessions — followed by a guided driving tour of Santa Barbara — beginning this summer.

“We want to preserve that image and preserve that reputation,” Janega-Dykes said. “Branding is all about delivering positive experiences.”

Branding was the topic of the luncheon’s keynote speech, delivered by Sasha Strauss, managing director of Innovation Protocol and a professor at UCLA and USC.

Strauss said social media and technology have transformed the branding landscape into a “new normal,” in which an audience questions everything about a brand instead of just believing advertisements. A business now has an obligation to explain its identity and why it’s important, he said.

“Whether you like branding or not, it’s here, and that’s why we should be strategic about it,” Strauss said.

He suggested that businesses or nonprofits pick a positive common topic and then establish a belief for customers by assuming nothing, empathizing, advocating, investing, teaching and caring.

The branding guru said locals should believe in where they work and live, cueing a video announcing the new local initiative.

Anyone interacting with visitors should sign up, said Jessica Dietmeyer, Visit Santa Barbara’s industry relations manager.

She said up to 40 people could attend each training, and that larger businesses could have training done on site.

“The brand of Santa Barbara is only as strong as the people who know about it and believe in it,” Dietmeyer said, noting that training would eventually expand to include information about Santa Ynez and Solvang. “This is just the beginning.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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