Returning to my original roots


I never intended to be a tourism guy.

Other than going on a few trips with my single mom growing up, I never gave much thought to visitors or what they could mean for a community.

And yet, here I am promoting Newport Beach to the world. Oh, how life takes us down strange and unpredictable roads.

My first passion was always journalism and telling stories. After getting a Communication degree at Cal State Fullerton, I joined the Los Angeles Times covering local business and education. Our offices were in the massive complex in Costa Mesa which thanks to the demise of print newspapers, is now becoming a mixed-use office space. But showing up every morning to that newsroom, that almost hummed with kinetic energy, was life changing. You felt like you were in the most important place in the world (or at least in Orange County).

Returning to my original roots Gary Sherwin 5.22

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Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

Maybe I had a premonition about the future of print journalism or maybe it was the low pay, but after a short while and thanks to the guidance of a professor who became a wonderful mentor, I transitioned to a tourism promoter. My first job was as the public relations guy for Palm Springs.

It was a fascinating gig and I got to work with interesting people such as soon to be mayor and Congressman Sonny Bono who was making a living as an Italian restaurant owner at the time. I could take visiting media to his place and while chowing down on Pasta Primavera, you could gaze down at the tennis court next door and watch Sonny play Kirk Douglas. How Palm Springs was that?

But what connected my old world of journalism to the new one in the tourism world was always about the stories. No matter how old you are and regardless of political persuasion, people loved stories and they still do.

Which brings me to my new job here at Stu News. Each week, I hope to shed light on our tourism community and the people in it. While I will also cover the business side of our hospitality community, I also want to showcase the people. Business people who are creative, inspiring and working hard to engage residents and visitors. Individuals who are making Newport Beach a wonderful place to visit and live.

There has never been a more important time to tell these stories, too. Given the economic devastation of COVID-19, the global tourism industry has taken an unprecedented hit and it is being felt profoundly in our city. In February, hotel occupancy was nearly 80 percent and less than a month later it plummeted to 30 percent. A few weeks later, it was in the single digits and would remain so for over a month.

No one would be celebrating 20 percent occupancy on a beautiful spring weekend a year ago, and yet here we are.

The City of Newport Beach is forecasting a $30 million hole in next year’s budget, much of that due to the collapse of the tourism industry and its accompanying hotel and retail tax revenue. Our streets have been empty, and our coffers are bare. Life without tourism and its economic benefits have been an unimaginable sight.

While it will take some time to regain our footing, I do feel oddly optimistic. While being hopeful about anything these days is almost an act of courage, I believe the essential qualities that make us Newport Beach will prevail. Our people are entrepreneurial, determined and resourceful. That’s what got them to our city and why they chose to stay and make a life here. Not every city is so blessed with the attributes of grit and imagination among its people.

And those are the folks I want to tell you about in the weeks ahead. Because in the wake of the pandemic, we all need to believe in people who can carry us through. Those are the best stories of all.

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.