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The Tour Stops Here : L.A. Is at Top of the List for Summer Vacationers, but You'd Be Surprised at What They Want to See

June 22, 1988|DAVID LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

So Woody Allen did say he "wouldn't want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light."

And one of the characters in Neil Simon's "California Suite" called Los Angeles "paradise, with a lobotomy."

The fact remains that Los Angeles (Nostradamus notwithstanding) is still the No. 1 tourist destination in the United States.

This year, for the first time, more than 50 million out-of-towners--cameras in hands, sunburn lotion on noses, traveler's checks in purses and pockets--are expected to visit L. A. County. Close to 20 million of them are due in the next three months.

What They Want to See

And once they get past the top-attraction list (compiled through a visitor profile commissioned by the Greater Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau and listing in order: Disneyland, which is in Orange County; Universal Studios tour; Hollywood; Beverly Hills and the beaches), what else do they want to see in Lotusland?

Among the international visitors, according to interviews with many of the travel counselors at the Los Angeles visitors' bureau:

- The Japanese (who comprise the highest number) most often want to know where they can find gun shooting ranges. And they want to know how to find Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

- The French ask where they can buy blue jeans and cowboy boots.

- Italians often want to see modern architecture.

- Swedes and Germans sometimes ask if they can camp downtown. Visitors from Holland also are interested in campgrounds, as are a number of Europeans.

- Mexicans often inquire about shopping areas, particularly for clothing.

- Australians often ask directions to Koala Blue, the trendy, Australian-owned shop on Melrose Avenue, and express an interest in cultural attractions.

- Scandinavians and British visitors expres interest in the beaches and sunshine.

The budget-minded from overseas have been known to ask where they can get a hotel room for $8 to $10, including breakfast.

Looking for a Car

The more affluent seek a different type of information: "Some want to know where they can buy a car in Los Angeles," said travel counselor Maria Lopez. "What they do is use it while traveling in California and to the East Coast, and then sell it in New York."

Swedish visitors, according to bureau public relations representative Marion M. Dillon, also ask about buying fishing equipment and where they can fish.

Keiko Garrison, a travel counselor supervisor, said that even though there now is a Tokyo Disneyland, "a lot of the Japanese visitors like to go to ours because they want to experience the change from hearing Snow White in Japanese."

Although international visitors to Los Angeles account for only 5.4% of the tourist total, they spend more time here (an average of 17.2 days, compared with 4.5 days for domestic guests), the bureau says.

As for domestic visitors, Dillon said, "people from the Northeast ask about the Jewelry Mart downtown."

Inside the downtown high-rise, where the visitors' bureau has its offices, several hundred letters are opened daily by Josephine Ng , who deals with such written inquiries as:

"I have lost contact with a buddy I knew in the Army years ago. I believe he is living in the L. A. area. Do you know how I can reach him?"

"Where is the (Westwood) crypt of Marilyn Monroe?"

And nearby, the phones continue their symphony as the questions persist, both from foreigners and Americans. The counselors do their best to provide answers to:

"Can I walk from Los Angeles to Disneyland?"

"Can you supply me with the phone number and address of . . . (usually a movie star)?"

"I would like a hotel in Hollywood near the beach."

"Do people cry at earthquakes?"

Never mind that Oscar Levant once said: "Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you will find the real tinsel underneath."

Quoth Rick Kenyon, who travels the world as manager of the local bureau's tour and travel sales,: "Los Angeles is an easy sell, because it is a household name. . . . But you sometimes use different approaches in different lands. In Australia, for obvious reasons, you emphasize the cultural attractions before you mention our beaches, but in Scandinavia (particularly with the Danes) you sell the beaches. Hollywood, however, is the key. When all else fails, you mention Hollywood. It is our ace in the hole."

Dora Lanzner can certainly vouch for that.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays at 6541 Hollywood Blvd., inside a Victorian house built in 1903, when the thoroughfare was a quiet road known as Prospect Avenue, Lanzner (with help on Saturdays) runs the bureau's Hollywood Visitors Information Center.

Daily Tours

At least 150 tourists wander daily into what used to be the house of Herman and Mary Janes and their four children, to tread the hardwood floors while taking in the former gaslight chandelier and ornate window designs and getting down to the reason they are there: To have questions answered.

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