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Ailing Hotel Industry to Get a Boost in Torrance

April 30, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

The Torrance City Council has approved a visitors bureau in an effort to bring more business to the city's burgeoning but troubled hotel industry.

"It is important to the well-being of the city and it is long overdue," said Mayor Katy Geissert.

"We need it," said John Webber, general manager of the Torrance Holiday Inn.

The bureau, which will be run as a quasi-independent arm of the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce, will receive $43,750 from the city. The chamber will provide space, office help and equipment estimated to be worth up to $35,000 a year, according to Dan McClain, executive vice president.

Just a Beginning

McClain said the establishment of the bureau is just a beginning.

Compared to city support for a similar agency in Long Beach, "the money we are getting is just peanuts," he said. In Long Beach, a major competitor for hotel business, the city provides $1.2 million in bed-tax revenues--60% of a $2-million budget--for the city's Convention and Visitors Council.

McClain said the first job of the bureau will be to produce promotional literature about Torrance hotels and nearby attractions, which could be used by Torrance officials at trade shows. Later plans include the establishment of a unit devoted to marketing Torrance as a site for small and mid-size conventions.

The council acted almost a year after the chamber and the city's major hotels pleaded that an aggressive effort to sell Torrance was required because of increasing competition for hotel clients and the prospect that construction would produce an oversupply of hotel rooms in the area.

Since the chambers' plea, there have been indications that demand has not kept pace with additional hotel space created by new construction. The occupancy rate for January, the latest month for which figures were reported, declined in the South Bay--the only area in Los Angeles County to show a decrease--and a number of local hotels began offering discount rates to boost occupancy. The South Bay occupancy rate plunged from 72.5% in January, 1986, to 63.1% this January.

Hotels in Torrance felt additional pressure when Radisson and Sheraton hotels opened recently in Redondo Beach and officials there announced plans to establish the Redondo Beach Marketing Council, similar to a visitor's bureau, to promote tourism.

At Tuesday's council meeting, members insisted that the visitors bureau devote itself to promoting hotels within the city, although the chamber serves areas outside Torrance. In addition, the city will exercise control of the bureau through the annual budget approval process.

After more than an hour's debate, the council decided that the bureau will be directed by a seven-member board composed of McClain, three members appointed by the chamber and three appointed by city government.

Hoteliers Relieved

Hotel representatives, who had opposed operating the bureau as a part of city government, huddled after the vote and voiced relief that the bureau's board would not be dominated by government representatives.

"The big thing is that we have four seats," said Margo Davis, director of sales and marketing for the Torrance Holiday Inn.

Said Webber, Davis' supervisor: "The City Council will not be there forever." He predicted that council interest in running the bureau--now intense--would wane once it is operating. "They won't have the time," he said.

A proposed agreement setting out precise arrangements between the city and the chamber is to be brought before the council May 12.

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