Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

TRAVEL INSIDER

State's Power Crisis May Darken Tourism's Door

Utilities * Rate hikes impel some hotels and amusement parks to conserve and raise prices; others are less affected.

February 11, 2001|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS and E. SCOTT RECKARD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In the old days, travelers approaching a lodging looked for a light in the window as a sign of welcome. For a traveler these days, it makes sense to look at that window for different reasons: If it's dark, there may be a blackout rolling through. And if there's someone on a ladder, it may well be that that person is putting fluorescent bulbs where incandescents used to glow.

Throughout California, tourist destinations are seeing their own ripple effects from the statewide power crisis. As spokespersons for hotels, theme parks and other attractions point to their backup generators and safety programs, their escalating utility expenses and their recently adopted conservation measures, travelers should expect to see and feel consequences. Some, like those fluorescent lights, will be apparent sooner. Others, like higher hotel rates, are likely later.

At SeaWorld in San Diego, the visible changes began before Christmas. A landmark 320-foot tree of holiday lights--2,040 bulbs in all--was illuminated 25% fewer hours this past holiday season than in previous years, said spokesman Bob Tucker. The park's Wild Arctic exhibit lost a little ambience when SeaWorld raised the thermostat from a slightly nippy 65 degrees to 70, Tucker said.

Across the harbor at the Hotel del Coronado, management is coping with an increase of up to 350% in power bills through cost-cutting measures that include switching from incandescent lighting in halls and guest rooms to more efficient fluorescent bulbs. Ray Stagg, the hotel's facilities director who oversees power supply to the 680 guest rooms plus public areas, said that since last June the monthly bill from San Diego Gas & Electric has increased from about $60,000 to about $220,000.

At Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, management in January closed five attractions, including the Perilous Plunge and Bigfoot Rapids. Knott's general manager Jack Falfas noted that the attractions were back in action by Feb. 1.

In Sonoma County, innkeepers Ray and Jeanne Farris said they had increased rates at the Cavanagh Inn by $10 a night to defray burgeoning costs of power at their seven-room lodging.

The inn, made up of two converted 1902 Victorian homes, gets its power through Pacific Gas & Electric. Through the end of January, it hadn't been hit with an outage. But for the billing period ending Jan. 26, the power expense was $832, up 58% from the same period a year before, even though guest occupancy was down slightly.

When the Farrises imagine what the bills might be, "we're kind of apprehensive," he said. So on Jan. 1, they raised rates from $135 to $145.

In West Marin County at the Ten Inverness Way Bed & Breakfast, owner and innkeeper Teri Mattson-Mowery has endured one 90-minute power outage (which occurred on a Wednesday in January without warning) and one warning of an outage that never came.

"It's actually fairly manageable," said Mattson-Mowery, who rents five rooms in a 1904 home about 35 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It helps, she said, that the Inverness area is already relatively unplugged.

Though she gets electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric, her water heater is powered by propane gas, which she buys by the canister.

"We can sell these blackout areas as rural and rustic," she said. "To come in and have the fireplace going instead of the central heating . . . there's a certain romance about it. It might not work in the middle of San Francisco, but we can sell it here."

In many cases, travelers' fears may surpass realities.

At the Sacramento-based California Hotel & Motel Assn., Executive Vice President Jim Abrams said hoteliers statewide are getting "tons of calls" from concerned prospective customers. Abrams, who also sits on the California Tourism commission, notes that this is a crucial time for the state's tourism industry because consumers are making their summer vacation choices and meeting planners are choosing convention sites.

Officials at Disneyland, which gets its power from Anaheim's municipal utility agency, reported no outages or cutbacks in areas that serve the public. Spokeswoman Chela Castano-Lenahan said the park's conservation efforts were focused on "backstage," where lighting, heat and air-conditioning have been reduced in areas that won't affect resort guests.

Similarly, officials at Universal Studios Hollywood said their theme park's offerings have been unaffected so far by the power crunch but that conservation measures are in place throughout the sprawling production, office and theme park complex. (The Universal back lot tour area alone is 415 acres, about three times the size of Disneyland and its new neighboring California Adventure combined.) Indoor attractions could be shut down this summer if energy shortages continue, the officials said.

For every dollar the typical American hotelier spends, 4.9 cents goes to utility bills, according to a recent analysis of U.S. hotel industry revenue and spending in 1999 by PKF Consulting's Hospitality Research Group.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|