By Arthur Lightbourn
One thing is for sure about Del Mar resident Larry Kaufman — actually, a couple of things.
In addition to having tons of experience in the hospitality industry, he loves Diet Coke and when he makes up his mind to do something, he does so with the determination of a professional fighter in training.
Tired of being overweight, he decided he needed to go on a diet.
So he designed one, a diet, that is, and, in the last year, he shed 60 pounds.
Now, as the newly hired vice president of sales for the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau, at a trim fighting weight of 140 pounds, he has taken on a new goal — to attract more than $35 million in convention, event and tourists dollars to North County in the next 12 months with the help of his seven-person national sales team.
We interviewed Kaufman in the conference room of the bureau's Carmel Valley office on High Bluff Drive.
Kaufman brought 24 years of hospitality experience to his new job on Dec. 1. For the past seven years, he was area director of sales and marketing for Noble House Hotels and Resorts' 462-room Paradise Point Resort & Spa, the Hilton Mission Bay and the Riviera Resort in Palm Springs.
The San Diego North ConVis coverage area stretches north along the coast from La Jolla to Oceanside and inland from Scripps Ranch to Rancho Bernardo and Escondido and east to Julian and the Anza-Borrego Desert.
In addition to its sales and marketing office in Carmel Valley, the bureau maintains an office in Escondido as a visitor center, administrative and public relations office.
The North ConVis operates with a $3.3 million budget funded through the San Diego Tourism Marketing District (TMD), the county, seven cities in the region and membership dues from 200 businesses. It is responsible for generating more than $35 million in total visitor spending to the region.
Although fiscal year 2008-09, as a result of the recession, saw a significant decrease in revenue to the local TMD and thus to the North ConVis, the bureau was still able to generate a 13.4 to 1 return on investment on the TMD funds it received.
"The last year was very difficult throughout all of San Diego, Southern California and throughout the country," Kaufman said. "But this year we expect an improvement as the year progresses. Increased demand; there has been some pent-up of demand. Room rates will still be somewhat down, however, we expect that to start increasing towards the second half of the year."
He is planning to take the customer database of companies, organizations, national associations, trade associations built up over the years and increase the business from that base, while at the same time adding new customers.
"We're about to launch a new initiative called the 'True North: Bring the Business Home Campaign,'" he revealed.
"This will be a grass-roots campaign designed to encourage local residents and employees of local companies to identify, advocate for, and influence group meetings and events to stay in San Diego North as a local economic stimulus effort," he explained.
Part of this plan, he said, is to give back to the community by providing donations to local children's charities for leads and group bookings.
The campaign will be promoted with press releases, media advisories and special events utilizing the bureau's Web site True North Landing Page and social media: Twitter, Facebook and blogs.