Los Angeles County brings in a record-high number of tourists in 2016

For the sixth year in a row, Los Angeles County has set a fresh record for visitors, with 2016’s surge coming from both domestic and international visitors with a taste for warm weather and new magical tourist attractions.

During a news conference Wednesday at Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that L.A. County hosted 47.3 million visitors in 2016, a 4% increase over the previous year.

Los Angeles International Airport, already one of the nation’s busiest airports, was the point of arrival for many of those tourists: It saw a record 80.9 million passengers last year, an 8% increase over 2015. Of those, 22.6 million, or 28%, were international travelers, who tend to stay longer and spend more than domestic visitors.

Garcetti attributed the growth partly to investments made in the past few years on several new attractions in Los Angeles County, including the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion that opened last year at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The park was so popular over the New Year’s holiday weekend that it reached capacity for the first time in its history, forcing park officials to temporarily close entrance gates.

Travel and tourism officials have attributed the increase in spending on travel, which is happening nationwide, to lower fuel costs and airfares, along with  increased economic optimism among most Americans. Las Vegas reported a record 42.9 million visitors last year, surpassing the previous record of 42.3 million in 2015.

A surge in travelers from China has pushed that country past Canada as the second biggest source of international visitors, behind only Mexico, said Ernest Wooden Jr., chief executive of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.

Los Angeles County drew 1.8 million visitors from Mexico, followed by a record 1 million visitors from China and 708,000 visitors from Canada.

In 2016, Wooden said, L.A. County surpassed New York as the top U.S. destination for Chinese visitors.

“We had an unbelievable year in tourism,” he said during the news conference.

In an interview later, Wooden said his agency has heard feedback from Middle Eastern countries and Mexico that residents worry they might not be welcome to visit the U.S. once President-elect Donald Trump takes office. But Wooden said Los Angeles plans to spend money to spread the word that Los Angeles is open to all visitors.

“I’m confident that Mr. Trump values tourism,” he added.

Garcetti said he hopes the momentum will continue this year so the county can reach his goal of 50 million visitors a year. The mayor noted that Los Angeles beat San Francisco to be home to the $1-billion George Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts. Groundbreaking is expected before the end of the year, with the project set to open by 2021.

“There’s even more opportunity on the horizon and an even bigger role for L.A. to play on the world stage,” he said.

L.A. County hotels reported an average 81.3% occupancy rate for 2016, the first full year the county average surpassed 80%, tourism officials said.

The region also benefited last year from a record 8.8 million cargo containers shipped through the Port of Los Angeles, up from the previous record of 8.5 million in 2015, Garcetti said.

The mayor said the combination of higher tourism numbers and increased port traffic has helped create more than 140,000 jobs and about 150,000 new businesses in the county since 2013.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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UPDATES:

12 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from a news conference and an interview with Ernest Wooden Jr., chief executive of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. Port of Los Angeles cargo numbers also were added.

This article was originally published at 9:45 a.m.

The caption of a photo accompanying an earlier version of this article misspelled Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's last name as Garretti.
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