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L.A. Convention Bookings Up 49% Over 1992 : Tourism: Officials hesitate to declare a turnaround, though, noting that the city still lags far behind others.

January 10, 1994|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a sign that Los Angeles' battered tourist industry is on the mend, convention bookings during the last half of 1993 were nearly 50% higher than in the final six months of 1992, according to the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Tourism officials remain cautious, however. They note that a complete turnaround remains a long way off and that Los Angeles lags far behind cities such as Anaheim, San Diego and San Francisco in attracting large conventions.

San Diego, for example, booked more than 300 large-scale conventions and meetings during the last six months of 1993. Los Angeles signed up 117 future conventions.

"We are encouraged, but we still haven't totally turned the corner," said Cheryl L. Phelps, regional manager for Hyatt Hotels in Los Angeles.

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The 49% increase in Los Angeles bookings reflects in part a dismal 1992, when the Los Angeles-area tourist industry suffered because of the city's riots. In addition, many groups were waiting to see the outcome of the $500-million expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

"Between the . . . riots and the economic malaise, people were very reluctant to make a commitment" and come to Los Angeles, visitors bureau spokesman Gary Sherwin said.

But as the center neared completion and concerns about visiting eased, more groups--ranging from the National Assn. of Broadcasters and the American Postal Workers--agreed to hold their conventions in Los Angeles.

Downtown hoteliers have already reported improved bookings this year as a result of the expanded center's opening in November. The Hilton and Towers said room bookings are running 15% ahead of last year, while Hyatt Regency Los Angeles reports a 41% increase.

"Right now, I think the worst is over," said Michel Tourniaire, general manager of the Hotel Inter-Continental Los Angeles, which was nearly sold out for five days in November with members of the International Assn. of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the first major group to meet at the expanded Convention Center.

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Still, hotel owners are concerned that business may worsen in 1995, when only eight major groups--compared to 19 this year--are scheduled to meet at the Convention Center. Uncertainty about the center's expansion and fears triggered by the Los Angeles riots--which occurred at a time when major groups were booking space for 1995--have held down reservations for next year, center officials say.

So far, 14 major conventions are booked at the center in 1996, and officials say the figure could climb to more than 20.

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