By all accounts, the tourism industry in the Southern end of the state enjoyed a stellar year in 1996.
With no natural or man-made disasters to deter them, visitors streamed into the region and spent freely. Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood boasted record attendance. Hotel occupancy was more than healthy. Conventions were booked in unheard-of volumes, particularly in Los Angeles.
And 1997 will be a strong year as well, industry observers say, although maybe not as strong as 1996.
Southern California can expect as many as 45.3 million overnight visitors in 1997, a 2.5% boost from 1996, according to San Diego-based CIC Research. Visitor spending should jump nearly 7% to $21.6 billion in 1997. Those projections, though healthy, don't quite match the nearly 3% increase in visitors during the big bounce back in 1996 and the attendant nearly 8% increase in spending.
Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau President George D. Kirkland said the area should begin to see the payoff in 1997 of an unprecedented series of visitor industry meetings in 1996 that showcased the region to more than 4,500 travel industry professionals who influence travel decisions for tourists and for business groups worldwide.
"The good news is, we will see continued growth in every segment of the marketplace" this year, Kirkland said. "There will not be any leveling off" from the "extraordinary" pace set in 1996, the best year for the Southern California tourism industry since 1989.
Convention bookings are solidly higher for both the Los Angeles and Anaheim convention centers.
The new year will not be as spectacular when it comes to new theme park attractions as was 1996, which featured Disneyland opening its Indiana Jones ride and Universal Studios Hollywood unveiling its Jurassic Park attraction.
In the spring, Disneyland will plug in its Light Magic parade, the fiber-optic replacement for its venerable Main Street Electrical Parade, which flickered out in November.
Six Flags Magic Mountain is expected to finally open "Superman: the Escape," its much-delayed high-speed thrill ride, early in the year. Six Flags will also be announcing in mid-January plans for its Hurricane Harbor Water Park, which is adjacent to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia.
Universal Studios Hollywood in March will open an attraction tied to the Nickelodeon cable channel, add a stop on the tram tour based on the upcoming "Dante's Peak" volcano movie, and launch a Hercules and Xena show.
Knotts Berry Farm will unveil a surf-inspired roller coaster in the spring called "Windjammer" at its new beach-themed Boardwalk section.
Ground is expected to be broken during the year for the $1.4-billion California Adventure attraction to be built on an existing Disneyland parking lot, which will have a second gate entrance; a $150-million expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center; and the $138-million celebration of little plastic building blocks at Legoland in Carlsbad.
This also will be the year that the California tourism industry votes on whether to tax itself to pay for tourism marketing. More than 250,000 California businesses are expected to vote by mail in April on whether to accept a proposed formula to tax businesses 4.5 cents for every $100 of revenue from tourism. The hope is to raise $7.5 million a year to promote tourism, although the plan faces opposition from some industry segments.
Times staff writer Nancy Rivera Brooks can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax at (213) 237-7837.
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