Smart Talk: Q&A with Jay Burress

DestinationsQ&As

jay burress

Jay Burress is president & CEO of Visit Anaheim

In June, Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau in California rebranded itself as Visit Anaheim. Why?

We desire to be a destination marketing organization of the future, so we wanted to rebrand and refocus to take advantage of all this new development, both as an organization and a destination.

Anaheim as a destination is changing so much; there is so much to discover in addition to Disneyland, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary. There’s the convention center expansion, development in the downtown area, the new Packing House gourmet food hall, Anaheim GardenWalk [an outdoor lifestyle center in the Anaheim Resort District], and 4,000 new hotel rooms. Disney is putting a billion dollars into its park.

How is Visit Anaheim a DMO of the future?

We are proactive in the city’s economic development. We have a customer advisory board made up of more than 20 influential corporate and association meeting and event planners. We tell developers that we see a need [for example] for this type of product, such as a new type of restaurant or hotel.

One of our two new [staff] positions is dedicated to strategic partnerships and development, finding the right venues and products that really add to existing products. The other position is dedicated to giving back to the community. This goes beyond working with planners on building attendance and attendee engagement for their events. The future of meetings is not just attendance-building, but also helping clients engage attendees through various opportunities to have an impact on the community.

The rebranding doesn’t reflect Orange County. Does that mean the focus is more on Anaheim?

We have partners throughout Orange County and work with these partners to provide services to visitors. So [for example], if visitors want to add a beach experience, we’ll work with a partner. Anaheim and Garden Grove, especially for conventioneers, are the gateway for the rest of the county. A stronger Anaheim means a stronger Orange County.

From the perspective of the meetings industry, how do you balance the needs of those who prefer theme parks with those who want a more upscale, luxury experience?

There’s a push on both sides, in what we offer with the convention product and what we offer with entertainment. We are transforming the destination with mixed-use development, including hotels, and connecting what we offer, such as the Honda Center and Angel Stadium, to existing resorts.

There is definitely a need for higher-end hotels for convention groups. A lot of lost-business reports cite the lack of a certain level of hotel—the four diamond and above. The Anaheim City Council just voted to give incentives to build luxury resorts. There is interest from the larger flags in the luxury and high-end brands. Two have been approved; one is in the GardenWalk entertainment area a block from the convention center and Disneyland.

What is the impact of the current expansion of Anaheim Convention Center, which will bring the total square footage of meeting space to more than 1 million?

We already have almost 20 groups booked for the expanded center—including returning groups that left us because they were getting too big, such as the American Heart Association.

Last year, the convention center hosted the first U.S. conference of (Perfect) China, which drew 7,000 Chinese attendees and generated $85 million in county revenue. Is the international market a big part of Visit Anaheim’s plans?

My intention is to grow that market. With partner Orange County Visitors Association we have two offices in China, one in the Middle East—a new market for us—and one in Mexico. The goal is to grow the international MICE market from 10 to nearly 11 or 12 percent.

We’re fortunate that we’re the home of Disney, and that [Disney] is an important part of our recognition as a potential site.

You’ve been living in Southern California for almost 2 1/2 years now. How has the change been personally?

I love it. It was a big move, after being in Dallas and Texas for so many years. It helps that the community here is hospitality-driven and welcoming. People come together as a unit—we’re competitors, but we’re partners first. That’s not always the case in some cities.

My family and I have settled in San Clemente, close to the water. Though they love their home state of Texas, my kids have adapted to the lifestyle. I’ve got a swimmer, a basketball player and a gymnast.


Hometown: Edmond, Oklahoma; has also lived in Seattle; Memphis, Tennessee; and several cities in Texas

Education: B.A. in business administration from Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Family: Wife, Jill; three children, ages 14, 13 and 9

Career: Prior to his current job, Burress was president and CEO at Experience Arlington, Texas, from 2008 to 2013. Before that he spent 20 years at Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, where he held executive-level positions in convention and tourism sales.