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L.A. Puts Out a Red Carpet for the World

Tourism: Lavish street party tops off five-day extravaganza designed to lure international travelers to the U.S.


Paris has its Left Bank. Athens has its Acropolis.

But on Wednesday night, downtown Los Angeles was the world's five-star tourist attraction, as the city threw a party for 5,500 international travel professionals in a way a movie town would.

Taking a page from a show-biz playbook, the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau ended its five-day stint as host of the annual Discover America International Pow Wow by closing off downtown streets, lining them with red carpets and serving up enough enticing solids, and liquids, to ensure that even these most seasoned of seasoned travelers would recall the best of L.A.

And judging by the guests' attitudes and appetites, the plan worked.

"It's not hard to bring people to Los Angeles," German travel agent Walter Langenberger of Munich said as he sipped a glass of white wine and sampled Mexican fare. "It's the diversity--Highway 1, Beverly Hills, the beaches."

The Pow Wow, which began Saturday, plays matchmaker to thousands of international buyers and the domestic sellers of such delights as tours, hotel space, transportation, rental cars and other travel services.

Besides the standard Beverly Hills glitter tour, the event rolled the visitors through a macedoine of Los Angeles' ethnic neighborhoods, among them East L.A. and a late-night jazz tour of Leimert Park.

Although hosting the Pow Wow brings the city the immediate financial windfall of any good convention, it's the likelihood of future tourism dollars that really excites city officials. The last time the Pow Wow was here was the Olympic year, 1984. Since then, other cities have hosted, and Los Angeles has had some roller coaster years before luring the Pow Wow back.

It is expected to generate about $3 billion in international travel to the United States; about 10% of that, or $300 million, ends up in the host city.

The convention bureau has said that if the 10% figure holds, hosting the 5,500 travel professionals could result in 4,400 new jobs for Los Angeles.

On Wednesday night, the international guests began the farewell party with glasses of champagne poured at the top of the picturesque Spanish Stairs opposite the Central Library.

Determined to see that even the staircase trip down to 5th Street was entertaining, organizers lined the steps with 60 tuxedoed musicians playing Gershwin and Cole Porter.

As at any good Hollywood opening, the street in front of the library was closed to traffic and carpeted in crimson. Intimate tables for four were spread throughout so that diners could better enjoy free meals catered by the likes of House of Blues and Cafe Pinot.

But it was the several open bars that were doing the heaviest lifting, with bartenders sweating to keep up with the eager drinkers, their various accents and their elaborate orders. About the only booth without a line was lonely Starbucks coffee--this, after all, was a crowd from overseas, not Seattle.

As some guests danced to a Latin band under a sky crisscrossed by oh-so-L.A. movie premiere lights, the riots, earthquakes, fires and floods that might have scared travelers away seemed long forgotten.

"We don't care about the riots," said Micki Mogi, a travel agent from Japan. "I tell them about [Dodger pitcher] Hideo Nomo."

If the Pow Wow were a movie, John Brewer would be best--and most optimistic--walk-on. The Billings, Mont., Chamber of Commerce rep came here hoping to entice the international travel professionals to book their clients' next holidays in his hometown.

But he too fell for Highway 1, Beverly Hills and all the rest.

"We're loving it here," Brewer said. "This is amazing, I'm going to tell the people in Billings that they've got to see it at least once."

Times staff writer Abigail Goldman contributed to this story.

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