For weeks now, Tony Everfield has been planning a June vacation with his three children to Disneyland. But after watching two nights of rioting across Los Angeles on the television, Everfield was racked Friday by second thoughts.
"I don't want my kids involved in seeing the violence," said the Oakland chef. "Los Angeles was a beautiful city. It just looks awful from what I've seen on the news. It will frighten the hell out of you. You don't know if you're going to get caught up in the middle of it or what is going to happen."
Everfield is not alone. Travel agents report widespread cancellations for packaged vacations to Southern California, particularly from foreigners. And local convention bureau, hotel and theme park executives struggled Friday to assess long-term damage from the riots.
Has Southern California's tourism industry, arguably Orange County's most important industry, gone straight into the toilet?
"It's probably lingering right around the rim, I expect," said a state tourism official in a particularly unguarded moment.
Local tourism officials were doing their best to point out to tour operators and visitors that Orange County has so far come through the riot without incident.
Elaine Cali, spokeswoman for the Anaheim Visitors & Convention Bureau, said her office was sending dozens of tour operators maps showing the areas of disturbance as a way of reassuring them that Orange County facilities are not affected.
"There is a lot untouched," she said.
Added Disneyland spokesman John McClintock, "This area is so far removed from the troubles. If you drove down Harbor Boulevard, it could have been any typical day." Be that as it may, the riots are going to hurt business for a long time to come, experts say.
"It's going to create a black eye for the image of California for at least a year or two," said Kevin Cartwright, spokeswoman for the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda.
Disneyland President Jack Lindquist, interviewed by telephone from the Euro Disneyland theme park outside Paris where he will be escorting a group of Orange County VIPs next week, said the riots have filled the front pages of the European press--often with exaggerated reports.
Grabbing a copy of a London tabloid, Lindquist read the front-page headline: "LA Lawless--Armoured Cars Enforce Shoot-to-Kill Curfew as 14 Die in Riots."
Although no shoot-to-kill order existed, Lindquist said that if he were a European reading the report, "I wouldn't go there if I won a ticket."
Overall, he said the riots are going to have "a very devastating effect" especially on foreign tourism, which has been building since it came to a virtual halt during the Gulf War.
That segment is considered especially important because the weakness of the U.S. dollar compared to many major foreign currencies has made the United States--and Orange County--lucrative tourist draws.
Lindquist said that even though Orange County has not been dragged into the rioting, he expects the area over the long term to be tarred with the same brush as the rest of Southern California.
He pointed out that the Anaheim park has received about 1,000 calls in the past two days from potential guests wondering whether the park would be open and how far it is from the troubles.
Ron Fong, owner of the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, said that he told his staff before Easter to expect a lousy year for tourism and then was encouraged as business perked up.
But he said he is gloomy about the future once again and does not think there is much--not even an expensive ad campaign--that can help.
"I think the forces against us are too powerful," Fong said.
Cody Plott, a regional vice president for the Hyatt hotels in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California, agreed. "It's hard to put a ribbon on a story like that," he said.
"These things take time--and time is the only thing that is going to resolve this in some people's minds," Plott said.