Economic doldrums? Not if the Mouse can help it.
Despite slower growth, forecasters say a new park next to Disneyland and additions to the Anaheim Convention Center will foster double-digit increases for Orange County tourism next year and solid if less spectacular growth for Los Angeles County hotels.
Expensive new properties are expected to continue pushing room rates higher in beach resort areas throughout Southern California, local tourism experts say.
The number of visitors spending nights in Orange County hotels should rise by 10.6% next year, said Bruce Baltin, a hotel expert with PKF Consulting in Los Angeles.
Visits to Los Angeles County should rise 2.9% next year, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "And a lot of that has to do with the opening of Disney's California Adventure" on Feb. 8, said Jack Kyser, an economist for the private economic research agency.
Baltin and Kyser will discuss their predictions today at a UCLA-sponsored conference at Disney's Grand Californian, a 750-room luxury hotel that is part of the Disneyland expansion.
"Tourism is looking pretty good in spite of the softening economy," Baltin said.
Room rates overall should get a boost from luxury hotels. Baltin expects nightly rates in Orange County to rise 5.5% next year to an average of $118.42 per room, and jump 4.5% in Los Angeles County to $126.50, he said.
One wild card is Northern California's economy, which will be hurt disproportionately if high-tech industries falter. By far the biggest customers for tourist attractions throughout California are the state's own residents, the economists say, so if Silicon Valley gets the flu, Southern California will certainly feel a few chills.
Another potential weak spot is the Midwest, a rich source of visitors to sunny Southern California. But the Midwest has seen its economy stagnate in many areas, with cutbacks in auto production and other old-line industries.
However, Kyser said the overall California and national economies, while slowing, will continue to grow. Foreign economies also will expand, although at a slightly slower pace, he said.
The slowing growth overseas will be offset by the dollar weakening against the yen and the euro, making California more affordable for Japanese and European visitors, he said. So businesses catering to international travelers stand to benefit--a boost to the region's growing number of high-end coastal resorts.
In Dana Point, a 400-room St. Regis resort will open next summer near the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, while a few miles away in Laguna Beach, a 275-room luxury hotel is soon to rise where the Treasure Island trailer park once sat. Baltin predicts the south Orange County luxury resorts will see nightly rates rise by 5.7% next year, to $233.50 per room.
He predicts similar growth in other beach areas. In Santa Monica, where newcomers like the Casa del Mar and Le Merigot have prospered, rates are expected to rise by 8.1%, to $223.75 per room.
But the biggest change will be in the budget-oriented Anaheim area, where Disney spokesman Tom Brocato says interest is strong in the company's expanded cluster of theme parks, hotels, shops and nightclubs. And after several years of renovation and expansion, the convention center is now the West Coast's largest, with 815,000 square feet of exhibit space.
The Grand Californian will charge more than $200 a night for its rooms, helping boost the average cost for an Anaheim hotel room to $80, up 8.1%, Baltin predicted.