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The Fun Season Gets Away to a Bumpy Start : Tourism: Cool, wet weather kept Memorial Day weekend below expectations, but industry officials remain optimistic that summer will bring a bumper crop of visitors.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The surprise rainfall Monday put a damper on the Memorial Day weekend for local amusement parks and hotels, but local officials remained optimistic that the summer tourist season would be a strong one.

With partly cloudy skies, gusty winds and cool temperatures much of the weekend, the holiday that is considered the unofficial opening of the summer season was termed largely unimpressive by tourism officials.

“We suffered because of the weather,” particularly on Monday, said Knott’s Berry Farm spokesman Robert Deuel. Attendance “was certainly less than we expected.”

At Disneyland, Orange County’s most popular tourist stop, spokesman Bob Roth said there was a feeling that the park “could have done better” had the weather been better.

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The seven Stovall family-owned hotels and inns near Disneyland had fewer occupants than expected over the weekend, though overall they still were busy, said John Coury, the 1,057-room operation’s marketing director.

But the posh Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point was booked solid during the three days.

Beach attendance fell precipitously with the precipitation. On Monday, only a few jacket-clad beach-goers watched at Newport Beach as cool winds whipped the sands where 90,000 sun worshipers had frolicked the day before.

Many people retreated to the malls. South Coast Plaza, which has been marketing itself as an upscale tourist destination, reported a healthy business during the three-day holiday weekend.

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“I think people were disappointed with the rain on Memorial Day. It was certainly a reason to come into the climate-controlled South Coast Plaza,” said Maura Eggan, the mall’s marketing director.

While park and beach officials were disappointed by the Memorial Day crowds, the first big wave of out-of-state tourists is not expected until next month. And the expectations ranged from the bullish, best-ever beliefs of the Ritz-Carlton manager to soul searching and worry from the Newport Beach Conference and Visitors Authority.

Newport Beach hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses have generally gotten off to a slow start this year, said the authority’s president, Richard Gartrell. Fearful that the slump could extend into summer, he said local tourism executives met Tuesday to try to pinpoint the cause.

Gartrell said theories included cool weather, a softer economy and tourism aftershock from the San Francisco earthquake. Though these issues were discussed at length, the American Trader oil spill, which blackened much of the Orange County coastline earlier this year, was never raised. Gartrell said that with the spill fully cleaned up, it appears to have had no impact.

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There is one bright side: an advertisement placed by the authority in Travel and Leisure Magazine resulted in a 197% increase in inquiries about vacations to Newport Beach. Gartrell said the authority is trying to market Newport Beach as a vacation value, with top quality hotels and shopping that compare favorably in price with other destinations.

A little farther south, a fledgling travel promotion bureau being established to market the South County is proceeding with an upbeat attitude, although its members are concerned about the economy.

“I think we are looking for a good summer season,” said Barbara Sloate, vice chairman of the Southern California Riviera Visitors Bureau and a local tour operator. “The economy is uncertain, and that is going to have an effect. . . .”

Despite the Memorial Day gloom, the theme parks are bracing for a big summer. Disneyland is promoting its 35th anniversary with daily prize giveaways and its newest ride, Splash Mountain. Knott’s Berry Farm has its new Boomerang roller coaster.

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Though Splash Mountain opened last July, this is the first summer in which Disneyland has been able to fully promote the water ride.

At Knott’s, Deuel said Disneyland’s promotion of its anniversary could bode well for the Buena Park theme park as well.

. . . in shadow of Boomerang, parachutes.


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