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Hotelier Sees County as Magic Kingdom for Tourism : MICHAEL A. BULLIS : Q & A

February 08, 1988|MARY ANN GALANTE | Times Staff Writer

Michael A. Bullis heads a $70-million company, earns at least $175,000 a year and picks up trash.

An overpaid garbologist? Hardly.

Bullis is vice president and general manager of Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. The job involves overseeing 1,600 employees, working 60 hours a week and being responsible for everything from operations, marketing and finance to sometimes stooping to pick up litter on the hotel grounds.

Bullis, 40, has probably spent more of his life in hotels than he has at home. He got his start in the hotel business at the age of 8, when he started sweeping up and making beds at his grandmother's Azalea Motel in Pensacola, Fla.

He joined the 1,200-room Disneyland Hotel in 1982, when occupancy was in the low 70% range and expected to drop. All that has changed. During the first nine months of last year, the hotel had an average occupancy rate of 89.7%, considered impressive by industry standards.

The hotel was purchased from Wrather Corp. by the Walt Disney Co. in January and is soon to undergo a multimillion-dollar expansion. Bullis is expected to head the hotel at least through 1990 under a four-year employment agreement that was signed in January, 1987.

He also is president of the California Hotel and Motel Assn. and outgoing chairman of the Anaheim Area Visitor and Convention Bureau.

In an interview last week with Times staff writer Mary Ann Galante, Bullis discussed Southern California tourism, the hotel industry and the Disneyland Hotel. Q: Orange County tourism has been increasing at a 3% to 5% rate per year and could hit an estimated 36 million people this year. Why are more visitors coming to the county?

A: For two reasons. There are a lot more hotels that are striving to be successful. They're all out there pitching and selling, trying to bring more business into the county. . . . In the basic commercial and business market, Orange County is becoming known as a destination in itself for business and conventions.

Secondly, in terms of tourism, the (amusement parks) themselves are really promoting heavily and spending big money inside the parks.

When you have the attractions themselves spending more money than they have before and the hotels and the conventions more widely focused on Orange County than they have ever been in the past, the combination is bringing more people here.

And that is generally interpreted as being very good for the hotel industry.

Q: What are Orange County's primary tourism attractions?

A: Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. You might even be able to say Newport Beach. Outside the community, but certainly affecting us, are the Queen Mary, (Sea World) in San Diego and Universal Studios.

Q: Assuming that there is increased attendance at our amusement parks, won't that bring an even worse traffic problem--particularly in Orange County?

A: The No. 1 concern . . . is the traffic. . . . I don't think Orange County has really accepted the responsibility that it's going to have to do something with that. And I think Orange County--both its residents and government--is going to have to really face that issue. And I think that we've started to.

Anaheim has really been looking very hard at how to solve some of these problems. It is going to inhibit growth for the attractions, the hotels and the business community in general.

Q: Is the solution to build more freeways?

A: I think you've got to build more freeways. I think you need to build a toll road. I think you need to build a mass transportation (system).

In places like Anaheim and Los Angeles, I think you need to start looking at how to effectively take the roads that you have now and either build them up or out for additional roads. You've got to do all those things.

Hypothetically--and I am speaking hypothetically--let's say that Disney was going to (build) a second gate, (a second major attraction in Anaheim). That would bring in another 10 million or 12 million people. It would double the size of attendance now. Or (it would) make the same people stay that much longer, with the same kind of impact.

You really have to go through the investigation stage--with the government, dealing with the roads, dealing with everything else--before you could really (build) the second gate in Anaheim. I would think that nobody is going to let (Disney) build a second gate until that happens.

If that's the case, you're not going to see a second gate in here for five to 10 years. And I absolutely believe that if the government got behind it, (it) could increase the freeways and the road systems and solve many of the problems in the next 10 years.

Q: Some economists have predicted that the falling dollar will cut both ways. The theory is that domestic travel will increase because people will be less inclined to travel abroad, where their money won't be worth as much. At the same time, some economists say more travelers will visit from overseas because they can get more for their money here.

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