Orange County's tourist and convention business will pump a record $5 billion into the local economy this year, and industry officials expect even better days ahead.
And their optimism doesn't seem to be dampened by warnings of a possible recession following last month's stock market collapse.
"The mood is very, very up," said Alynne Hanford, director of tourism development for the Anaheim Visitor & Convention Bureau. "I don't think (a recession) will have much influence on us."
However, global economics is certainly playing a role in the local tourism picture.
The sharp devaluation of the dollar against many foreign currencies is persuading some Americans to forgo overseas vacations and stay closer to home, tourism officials said. At the same time, the dollar's drop is making it easier for Japanese and European travelers to afford trips to Disneyland and other Southern California destinations.
"International tourism is very strong right now, and the exchange rate certainly has an impact on that," said Bob McTyre, Disneyland's director of marketing, entertainment and sales.
Tourism officials attribute their generally upbeat outlook to the promise of major new attractions at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, and to planned expansions at the Anaheim Convention Center and John Wayne Airport.
Disneyland, Southern California's main drawing card for U.S. and foreign visitors, expects its third consecutive year of record attendance in 1987. The park doesn't release specific attendance figures.
Disneyland's attendance gains are attributable in part to the opening of two major attractions, Captain Eo and Star Tours, since September, 1986. Another major attraction, a water ride called Splash Mountain, is scheduled to open in 1989.
Beyond 1990, the park's management hopes to add a new major attraction as often as every two years, McTyre said.
"We really feel the key at Disneyland is to maintain the momentum," McTyre said. "I don't know what's going to happen with gas prices and air fares, but we remain very optimistic."
As Disneyland goes, so goes the rest of Orange County's tourism industry--hotels, motels, restaurants, tour companies, transportation firms and other amusement centers.
"When they do well, we do well," said Stuart Zanville, a spokesman for Knott's Berry Farm, which attracted nearly 6 million visitors to its theme park and an adjacent shopping and restaurant complex last year. "Those tourists can't spend their entire vacation in the Magic Kingdom."
Knott's Berry Farm's newest attraction, Kingdom of the Dinosaurs, has boosted attendance at the park, and additional expansion is in the works. The park will add a major new attraction in the spring of 1988 and another one within two years, Zanville said at Tuesday's session, which was sponsored by the California Travel Industry Assn.
"It's going to be exciting, and it's going to represent California," Zanville said of the park's next new attraction. "Unfortunately, we're not at liberty now to talk about it."
A $50-million expansion under way at the Anaheim Convention Center, including the addition of a fourth exhibit hall, will enhance the area's ability to attract new and larger conventions and retain its current ones, said Jim Kissinger, convention sales director for the Anaheim bureau. In 1986, conventions attracted 1 million visitors who spent $599 million in the area, Kissinger said.
And a pending $297-million expansion of the overcrowded John Wayne Airport, scheduled for completion in April, 1990, will make it easier for tourists to get in and out of the county. The expansion will include a new passenger terminal, more parking and road improvements.
VISITORS IN ORANGE COUNTY ... AND THE DOLLARS THEY SPENT Tourism has enjoyed steady growth in Orange County in recent years, and tourism officials expect growth to continue because of major new attractions at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, and planned expansions at the Anaheim Convention Center and John Wayne Airport, LEAVETT BILES / Los Angeles Times