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As Old Industries Ebb, San Pedro Hopes Tourists Turn the Tide

August 13, 1989|SHERYL STOLBERG | Times Staff Writer

When Karl Sanger attended a travel industry trade show in Las Vegas in June, he set up shop in the booth maintained by the Long Beach Visitors and Convention Bureau, the people who try to attract tourists to Long Beach.

But Sanger wasn't promoting Long Beach.

He was promoting San Pedro.

As director of sales for the newly built Compri Hotel at the Cabrillo Marina, Sanger aimed to persuade tour operators that San Pedro would make a fine base for visitors who want to explore Southern California. And he had some success; a British travel agent contracted for 3,600 room nights at the 226-room Compri.

Day Trips From Hotel

The British travelers will spend seven nights at the Compri. From there, they will take day trips to Disneyland, Universal Studios and other tourist hot spots. Said Sanger: "(The tour operator) has been putting his people in Anaheim or he's been putting his people in downtown Los Angeles, and now he's going to put them here."

Sanger's experience in Las Vegas illustrates two truths about San Pedro's fledgling tourism trade. First is that the business is in its infancy--so new that Sanger was compelled to ally himself with nearby Long Beach, which boasts such nationally known attractions as the Spruce Goose and Queen Mary.

But second--and, San Pedro business leaders say, more important--is the potential for San Pedro to become a tourist destination, rather than a quick stopping point.

European Ethnic Flavor

With a string of its own waterfront attractions--Ports O' Call Village, the World Cruise Center at the Port of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Maritime Museum and Cabrillo Marine Museum, among others--plus a European ethnic flavor that is rare in other Southern California communities, San Pedro already attracts hundreds of thousands of day-trippers each year. Many know San Pedro as the point of embarkation for Catalina Island, Mexico and Alaska, among other destinations.

And with the new Compri, as well as a 232-room Sheraton Hotel under construction downtown and plans for a cruise center hotel under consideration by port officials, San Pedro will have plenty of room to house those visitors.

"Tourism is a very viable (economic) alternative which has not been tapped in San Pedro," said Leron Gubler, executive director of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

"The potential is here," Gubler said. "We have easy freeway access, we're on the water, we're the port, we have excellent restaurants. . . . In the past, we've had people coming down for a day to go to Catalina or Ports O' Call Village, but we've got to get them to stay."

Said John Clayton, who specializes in public relations for the tourism industry and serves on the newly established San Pedro Tourism Council:

"I think coming to San Pedro offers a whole different experience. . . . How wonderful to come down here instead of the smoggy interiors of Anaheim and some of these other places. How wonderful to be in all this history and atmosphere and still be freeway-close, and to be right on the water. . . . I think if it's properly publicized it has enormous potential."

There are no comprehensive statistics that document how many people visit San Pedro each year, how many stay overnight or how many might elect to stay in San Pedro instead of elsewhere. The Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau lumps San Pedro in with the rest of the greater Los Angeles area, which hosted an estimated 48.3 million overnight visitors in 1988.


* Ports O' Call Village attracts more than 1.1 million visitors each year, according to its merchants association, and the parking lot there is so jammed on weekends that the merchants recently voted to recommend that the village cut back on advertising in order to avoid frustrating visitors who can't find a place to park.

* More than 250,000 cruise ship passengers travel through the port's World Cruise Center annually. A port official estimated that 40% of those passengers live 50 or more miles from Los Angeles and would provide a primary target for San Pedro's hotel industry. An additional 300,000 passengers, most from the Los Angeles area, travel between San Pedro and Catalina Island each year.

* The Los Angeles Maritime Museum received 103,000 visitors last year, at least half of whom live beyond Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, according to museum Director William Lee. "Certainly during the summertime we get an awful lot of out-of-town visitors," Lee said. "We get a lot of people who come down to board the ships or who are stopping over."

San Pedro business people would like to capitalize on these numbers.

Key to Economic Future

The Chamber of Commerce sees tourism as the key to the economic future of San Pedro, not only because it will be good for existing businesses but, Gubler says, because it will create jobs.

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