Los Angeles enjoyed a record year in tourism in 2015, welcoming 45.5 million visitors. That’s an increase of nearly 3 percent over 2014, and it makes 2015 the fifth consecutive year to shatter visitation records. Some credit for this boom goes to Ernest Wooden Jr., who has been the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board since 2013. It’s under his very capable leadership that LA is marketed both nationally and internationally. Decades of experience in the hospitality industry have prepared Wooden for this role. He has held senior positions with Omni Hotels and with Promus Hotels, the onetime parent company of properties flying the DoubleTree and Embassy Suites flags. He went on to become executive vice president for all 10 Hilton global brands and then a senior managing director of Alagem Capital Group, an investment firm that specializes in hospitality and owns The Beverly Hilton, among other properties.
CAM+E: You’ve spent your whole career in hospitality. Was that inspired by the family vacations of your childhood?
EW: Unfortunately, it’s not that romantic. When I was a 16-year-old Brooklyn kid attending high school in Manhattan, I was looking for a job. I saw a listing in The New York Times—that was how you found jobs back then—for a part-time bellman around the corner from my school at what was then the Sheraton Russell. I got the job and I never left the industry. My first paycheck I was making $2.01 an hour.
CAM+E: How important is the meetings and conventions industry to tourism in LA?
EW: It’s vital. This year we’ll probably do 350,000 room nights tied to meetings and conventions. That’s $428 million in economic impact. We’re booking conventions in LA through the year 2030. As we boost our inventory of hotel rooms near the Convention Center with properties like the 900-room Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown, which will be part of the tallest U.S. building west of the Mississippi, we’ll be able to change the mix from consumer shows to city-wide shows.
What’s more, LA is one of the premier destinations in the world for pre- and postconvention stays. People want to extend their time here because we have an embarrassment of riches, from Universal City Hollywood and its brand-new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, to museums like The Broad and The Getty, world-class restaurants, nightlife and shopping, and, of course, great natural beauty and terrific year-round weather.
CAM+E: What’s your favorite way to spend a leisurely day in LA?
EW: I love to get in my car early on Sunday morning with the LA Times and The New York Times, drive out to the beach and watch the dolphins feed. Sometime you can spot a whale, too. I’ll do that for an hour or two. It’s a great LA experience!