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Officials Forecast a Sunny Summer for Tourism in County

May 27, 1986|RAY PEREZ | Times Staff Writer

Orange County, already one of the gems in California's lush tourist industry, will lure a record number of sightseers to its beaches, amusement parks and other attractions this summer.

At least that is the prediction championed by those who monitor the county's important tourist business.

Reasons for the optimism are simple: terrorism abroad will keep many Americans home this summer, and the drastic drop in the price of gasoline will allow families to return to the see-America-first vacations popular during the days of cheap fuel.

Major airlines are reporting a 20% decrease in overseas travel this summer. That should have "a ripple effect" on tourism in Orange County, said Jerry Shea of the state Employment Development Department.

Last year, 32.4 million visitors spent $4.5 billion in Orange County. California, the nation's busiest tourist state, drew more than 100 million visitors who spent $31 billion last year.

Bill Snyder, president of the Anaheim Area Visitor & Convention Bureau, said tourist industry officials had hoped that last year's numbers would increase about 5% in 1986. But so far, 12.3% more tourists have visited the county this year.

"If that keeps up, we would be hitting 35 million people this year, and that would be awfully good," Snyder said. "(Lower) gasoline prices always help."

Hotel rooms in Orange County, he said, also are being booked at a 4.6% increase over the record year of 1985.

In Laguna Beach, where tourism keeps the small, scenic beach city congested throughout the summer, 1,250 hotel rooms are solidly booked, and a record number of visitors are expected, perhaps as many as 35,000 to 40,000 each weekend day.

"I think this summer will be the biggest we've ever had. I expect 3 million people will visit," Jim Lyon, president of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce & Civic Assn., said.

Lyon said the chamber has spent $12,000 promoting Laguna Beach in the northern and eastern sections of the country, plus New Zealand and Australia. A documentary on Laguna Beach by an Australian network should help attract a fair number of Aussies to Southern California this summer, he said.

"We've had a lot of (foreign) travel writers visit us. We're getting a lot of exposure for free and that should help," Lyon added.

Nancy Hamlin, manager of the rustic Capri Laguna Hotel, said the inn was booked months ago for June and July and "August is filling up each day."

Disneyland in Anaheim and Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park also are expecting a record summer. Early signs indicate business will boom for both parks.

Bob Roth, Disneyland's publicity manager, said the park should lure more than the 10 million people who visited in 1985, half of whom visited during the summer.

"We don't deal with advance bookings, but we're having a very good year so far. Easter was very busy. Everything is pointing to a very busy summer," Roth said. "However, we don't want to presume anything or scare people away by saying we are very busy. But there are very hopeful and positive indicators."

Roth also added that Disneyland officials don't want to be too optimistic, lest the numbers fall short of projections, as they did in 1984 during the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

"We were expecting more people then. But people probably got concerned about the overcrowding and other things, and it didn't work out as well as we had anticipated," he said.

At Knott's Berry Farm, which attracted 5 million visitors last year, officials are counting on a record-breaking summer. Spokesman Stu Zanville said the park allocated more money this year for promotion to attract the free-spending summer travelers.

"Like everyone else, we expect a great summer. But we were expecting that even before people began canceling their European vacations," he said. "It's a little early to get a good reading, but we seem to be having the most success since 1981. Attendance is up 10% over last year."

Zanville also said that many travelers from the eastern part of the United States visiting Expo '88 in Vancouver may swing south to California for a quick tour before going home.

"All that could help us. We have to be very enthusiastic about this summer," he said.

And if predictions prevail, Newport Beach also should be even more inundated with tourists than usual. Probably the most popular beach community in the county, Newport Beach traditionally becomes a summertime sea of people.

The bars, restaurants and other surfer hangouts near the city's pier already are beginning to fill even before the sun sets.

"It just might be crazier than normal this summer," said one veteran bartender at Blackie's, a block from the pier.

Not Concerned About Price

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