The prayers of Anaheim innkeepers and tourist attractions are being answered by the city's largest convention of the summer, the nine-day International Church of the Nazarene assembly that began Thursday at the Anaheim Convention Center.
An estimated 50,000 visitors are expected to spend upwards of $16 million during the group's stay, said William Snyder, president of the Anaheim Area Visitor & Convention Bureau.
The convention signals what could be a near-record summer for tourism in Orange County. The number of area convention-goers alone is expected to jump 80% this summer compared to last, when the Olympics cost the city tens of thousands of visitors. "It's going to be a great summer," Snyder said.
In August, for example, convention traffic is expected to more than quadruple compared to last August. More than 45,000 convention visitors are anticipated this August compared to 10,000 last August, when the city registered one of its worst monthly convention showings on record.
Church of the Nazarene visitors are expected to purchase more than 50,000 room-nights at local hotels and occupy 1,200 rooms at the 1,600-room Anaheim Hilton, according to B. Edgar Johnson, general secretary of the Church of the Nazarene. "Not a bad chunk of business," he said.
But the business isn't limited to hotel rooms. "They all eat breakfast, lunch and dinner," said a Hilton spokesman, who noted that the Hilton had geared up for
the convention by adding extra food-service areas and dozens of additional employees. At the Hilton alone, more than 100 church convention functions with meal service are scheduled.
Local tourist attractions will also benefit from the convention. Disneyland has sold the church a block of 10,000 tickets for Monday evening, and Gray Line Sightseeing Tours has scheduled dozens of tours for the group. This weekend, Gray Line will use 72 buses to cart convention-goers from their hotels to Anaheim Stadium, where worship services and seminars are scheduled all weekend.
But most of the activities are taking place inside the convention center, where the church is using all 685,000 feet of exhibition and meeting space. Inside the exhibition hall, more than 100 exhibitors are selling convention-goers everything from religious comic books to multimillion-dollar church financing deals.
The largest exhibitor, the Nazarene Publishing House, has erected a 17-foot balloon in the image of a youngster reading Christian literature. "It's getting more attention than the Bob's Big Boy statue," said M.A. (Bud) Lunn, manager of the publishing company.
The church-affiliated book publisher expects to sell more than $250,000 worth of literature during the convention, with Christian cookbooks--recipe books with spiritual overtones--among its more popular items this year. The publishing house is headquartered along with the church in Kansas City, Mo.
The 90-year-old church, which boasts 1.2 million members, prides itself on the worldwide missionary work of its membership. A number of conference-goers were signing up for missionary work at the conference.
Others preferred to purchase religious notions from merchants' table tops, such as 79-cent coin holders inscribed "Jesus Is Lord" and $1.59 flashlights with the inscription "The Lord Is My Light."
Plenty of recruiters from Christian colleges are also in the exhibit hall trying to attract students for the fall semester. Representatives from Olivet Nazarene College in Kankakee, Ill., will hand out more than 7,500 school pennants and 10,000 pamphlets in hope of attracting 75 new students from the convention, said Ted Lee, vice president at the college. And Northwest Nazarene College recruiters attracted a crowd of onlookers with a $5,500 robot, Charlie the Crusader, who motored along the exhibition floor decked in school colors while playing the school's song on his computer program.
Companies eager to finance churches also lined the exhibition hall, such as Security Church Finance Inc., of Overland Park, Kan., which has financed 2,000 churches in the past 20 years. Over the two decades, only five churches have defaulted on the company's total loans of more than $500 million, said Bill Martin, a company consultant. "That's a lot better than any bank can say."