Tourism Industry Has Its Work Cut Out for It

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Concerned that tourism in California will suffer because of the worldwide publicity about last week's rioting in Los Angeles, a group of tourism industry leaders met Friday with state and local officials to plan efforts to repair the area's image.

Los Angeles County could lose a quarter or more of its annual tourist business as a result of the disturbance, officials said. But the entire state's tourism industry has a compelling stake in the fortunes of the county, said Gary Sherwin, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Los Angeles is a key travel destination because many visit Southern California and then travel to San Francisco," Sherwin said. "When our tourism declines, it drops in San Diego and San Francisco."

Two public agencies said they will spend $400,000 on promotional efforts designed to bolster the image of Los Angeles. The Airport Commission has committed $250,000, and the state Commerce Department's office of tourism will spend $150,000 on communications programs to help bring visitors to Los Angeles, said John Poimiroo, director of the state tourism office.

The announcements came after a group of tourism industry leaders and public officials met to discuss proposals for repairing the area's image.

The two agencies have not yet determined exactly how the money will be spent, but some of it will be budgeted for public relations and advertising campaigns.

The new programs are designed to help buoy the local tourism industry--hotels, restaurants, airlines and entertainment establishments--which has experienced a sharp decline in business since last week's violence.

Representatives of many of those businesses--about 80 people in all--attended the meeting.

"The downturn is serious and it's affecting many in this industry," Poimiroo said during an interview. "Companies and government have to come together and turn the situation around."

Visitor spending in Los Angeles County has dropped by 50% to 75% since April 30, the first full day of the rioting, according to estimates by the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

George Kirkland, president of the visitors bureau, told the gathering that analysts have estimated that Los Angeles County could lose $1 billion to $2 billion in tourist revenue during the rest of the year.

"That (estimate) is not too far off," Kirkland said.

Officials at the visitors bureau are particularly concerned about the drop-off in visitors from abroad and are making plans to recapture that valuable market. Foreigners account for about 22% of visitors to Los Angeles County, with Japanese alone accounting for 6% to 9%, Sherwin said.

"People from abroad tend to stay longer and spend more money," Sherwin said. "With the domestic economy weak, foreign spending by visitors has been particularly important to Los Angeles."

The Japan Tourist Bureau, the largest private Japanese tour operator, suspended all of its trips to Los Angeles after the riots began. The visitors bureau hopes to persuade JTB and other travel agencies in Japan to encourage visits to Los Angeles again.

The visitors bureau next week will dispatch specialists on the Asian travel market to talk to travel agencies and tour packagers in Japan and other countries. The bureau plans to send an expert on the European market on a similar mission as well.

Organizations at the gathering promised to work together to raise money for other promotional efforts.

Tourist-related companies attending the meeting said they will also launch programs on their own to try to lure visitors to Los Angeles and other parts of California.

The California Tourism Corp.--a trade group representing the interests of a wide range of travel-related businesses--spends millions promoting travel to the state.

The group's president, J. Phillip Keene, said he hopes to raise extra funds for the effort this year.

Keene was among those expressing optimism about prospects of recapturing the tourist business.

"The events of last week were a shock to everyone and a black eye for Los Angeles, but I think we'll heal rapidly," he said.

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