Olympic Sites Enlisted in State Tourism Drive

Times Staff Writer

A series of international athletic competitions--highlighted by U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. events--would be held annually at Olympic sites in the Los Angeles area under a state proposal to generate more dollars for California's tourism industry.

The plan, now under study by top state officials, was revealed Thursday by Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy in an interview after a speech to more than 1,000 tourism industry officials at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

"We're talking about Olympic-caliber events," McCarthy said in the interview. "It would put the facilities to better use and attract more tourists to the state."

The plan would be in keeping with the state's newly aggressive tourism campaign, which seeks to reverse a downward trend that found California ranked last in 1984 among all 50 states in the growth of tourism revenue and 47th in state spending to promote tourism.

Last year's infusion of state funds into a program aimed at marketing California propelled the state into ninth place in spending. "We shouldn't be content until we're No. 1," McCarthy said.

Even if the proposed athletic competitions fail to surface this year, McCarthy said, the state's tourism revenue still would increase 5% to $29.3 billion, an addition of $1.3 billion. Increased tourism also is expected to add 260,000 new jobs to the present 500,000 tourism-related positions in the state.

California's tourism turnaround began in 1985, when the state spent $5 million to advertise itself as a tourist destination. Before that, California spent well under $1 million a year on promotions. The latest spending binge is a reaction to big tourism gains posted by competing states such as Hawaii and Colorado, while California's $1.6-billion tourism industry--still the nation's largest--remained flat.

A sure way to give the industry a boost, McCarthy said during the interview, is to rekindle the Olympic spirit by using Southland facilities to showcase athletic competitions. "We should go after every international, Olympic-type event we can find. We should bring them all back to Los Angeles."

He said events pitting the United States against the Soviet Union would likely prove the most popular. The nation was deprived of competition between the two rival super powers when the Soviets boycotted the 1984 Summer Games.

Events could be held at facilities throughout the Southland, such as the Coliseum, the Forum and the Anaheim Convention Center, all of which hosted major Olympic competitions. The City of Los Angeles and the state have been searching for additional uses for Olympic facilities since the games ended.

The state has not yet projected budgets for proposed competitions nor has the State Department been notified of the proposal, McCarthy said. "But California has been cruising along for too long on its reputation," he said. "We should not wait for visitors to come to us. We've got to pursue them."

In another move borrowed from organizers of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the state is linking up with corporate sponsors to promote tourism.

Later this spring, a cadre of airlines will promote travel in California in a six-week television campaign, McCarthy said. And Atlantic Richfield Co. he said, soon will be handing customers at its Arco service stations travel kits with maps that highlight the state's tourist attractions.

The state also has assembled an updated version of its "The Californias" advertising campaign that promoted 12 regions of the state in 1985, he said. The new campaign will break later this year, McCarthy added.

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