Twelve British travel agents got an idyllic taste of Santa Cruz Friday afternoon.
The boardwalk was peaceful. Throngs of tourists were replaced with a pleasant sea breeze, green waves, and the golden sunshine of the fall equinox.
Under yellow umbrellas, the Londoners sat munching sandwiches from The Buttery and planning their next moves: after a tour of the boardwalk, a visit to the surf museum at Lighthouse Point, and dinner at the Crow's Nest.
They are twelve of the fifty-five winners of the "California SuperFAM" tour, a reward trip for travel agents of the U.K. and Ireland who sold the most California travel packages last year.
"Because inevitably once they learn more about it and they've visited it, it's much easier to sell to their customers. I mean we do trainings and that kind of thing in the U.K. but you can't beat being here," said the Travel Trade Manager for Visit California, James Mead who was visiting Santa Cruz for the first time.
"It's just beautiful, and the weather's fantastic. Coming from what we left, about 12 degrees (celcius) yeah, it's gorgeous," said Mead, beaming.
California is what the British travel agents refer to as a "multi-destination" trip, and the scenic coastal highway is the main attraction.
"British tourists prefer that, they would almost always fly into L.A. and come up to San Francisco or the other way around, its the iconic route and its very much what they love to do," said Mead.
The number one selling point for the Brits to stop in Santa Cruz?
"Certainly what a great family desitination it would be, for everybody from grandparents down to the grand children," said Amanda Davies, a travel agent in Southampton, a coastal town about 75 miles south-west of London.
"We do high end holidays, specifically tailor made," said Davies, and sees honey moons and big family holidays doing particularly well in Santa Cruz.
Laura Jones of a London travel agency Flight Center, said the free summer concert series at the boardwalk would be popular among British tourists, too.
"At home we have such a big sort of festival culture, so something like the beach concerts would be fantastic," said Jones, who gives an example of British "festival culture" with "big music festivals that go on for the whole weekend and people camp, and it's just band after band."
Although their time in Santa Cruz is brief, there's no doubt that its salty charm made an impression.
"I think it's perfect actually, I would say it fulfills that cliché, doesn't it, of the sandy beaches, it feels like that original, very real, cliché may not be the right word but, great beaches, surfing history, the culture, the great pier, the great rides," said Davies.
The benefits to seeking foreign tourists are vast, including off season business, mid-week travel, and a larger budget for spending.
"The Santa Cruz County Visitors Council has been trying to lure the foreign market into the area, so this is kind of the next realm of marketing for us. And the U.K. makes sense to us because it is the largest inbound international market to California," said Chrisina Glynn, Communications Director for the SCCCVC, who hosted the visitors.
In 2011, the United Kingdom sent 702,000 visitors to California, pumping $1.2 billion into the local economies they visited. It's proof that Visit California (with Rob Lowe a fascinating mascot) which began in 1998 as the California Travel and Tourism Commission, is good at what they do.
Santa Cruz may just see an influx in British tourism. And if we don't, it only means they're taking holiday somewhere else.
"We generally get a minimum of four weeks vacation a year, sometimes five," said Mead.
And they take this seriously.
"I was reading in the U.K. press that the holiday is one of the last things that we'd ever give up, you know, when we're trying to cut back budgets, our holiday is really, really important to us, because we're a great country and all but it's a bit gray, so we can't really replicate this too well," sais Mead, waving his hand towards the sparkling Pacific.
"And that's why we've always been a traveling country."
And when it comes to British perceptions of California, Jones says she has not come across a single "fake" Californian.
"Everyone we have met has been really polite, and lovely, you know and i haven't gotten that vibe at all," said Jones.
But other reputations were proven true:
"I think everybody thinks that you've got a very enviable lifestyle. So, I think obviously most peoples' perception is influenced by media, so TV and Hollywood and that sort of thing, but everyone knows it as sort of an aspirational lifestyle and everybody knows about the quality of life, and I think that's what really appeals to a lot of people... The Brits love it here and always have," said Mead.
Last year in London, the Secret Cinema put Santa Cruz on the map when it hosted a screening of The Lost Boys, building a Beach Boardwalk crawling with vampires in the middle of London. See the YOUTUBE video.