L.A. increasingly is the place to meet

Teen volleyball players, firefighters and female engineers are among the Los Angeles visitors who are expected to make 2014 one of the biggest years for the L.A. Convention Center in decades.

The Convention Center has booked 29 conventions for 2014, surpassing the 22 conventions held at the facility last year. The events include 11 gatherings that are new to L.A.

“Los Angeles is hot right now,” said Ernest Wooden Jr., president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.

Hotels and restaurants should be able to cash in on the growth. Convention attendees in 2013 booked a combined 150,000 nights at local hotels -- and officials expect that to balloon to about 266,000 room nights this year.


The surge mirrors the growth in tourism across the nation as the economy gains strength.

Los Angeles welcomed about 42 million visitors in 2013, marking the third consecutive year that the region has set a new record for tourists, according to the Tourism & Convention Board.

That helps pump some big money into the economy. For instance, tourism in Los Angeles County brought in $16.5 billion in direct spending in 2012, with a total economic benefit of $30.5 billion, according to the tourism board. It has not yet calculated the spending totals for 2013.

And the number of visitors is only expected to grow, prompting a spree of hotel construction near downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has 10 new hotels that are scheduled to be completed this year, including a 393-room Marriott hotel project with a Residence Inn, the first extended-stay hotel in downtown L.A.

An additional 25 hotels, including the 900-room Wilshire Grand project, are in various stages of planning and are expected to bring nearly 5,000 new rooms to the city by 2017, according to the tourism board.

The city last year turned over the job of booking conventions to Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotel complex adjacent to its L.A. Live and Staples Center properties in downtown L.A.

AEG is also working on a separate plan to lure a National Football League team to the city. The plan would require AEG to move a wing of the Convention Center to make way for a football stadium near Staples Center. The company has an exclusive bargaining window until November.

But the organizers of some larger conventions have been reluctant to book events in Los Angeles for 2017 and beyond because they want to avoid being in the city during construction of a football stadium, according to tourism officials.

AEG executives have assured convention organizers that if a football stadium is built next to Staples Center they will do everything they can to keep construction from interfering with ongoing conventions.

“We have made commitments to every convention organizer that we would work with them to minimize any potential disruption to their schedule during the construction of a football stadium,” said Brad Gessner, who was hired by AEG last year to manage the Convention Center.

Among the biggest conventions scheduled for L.A. this year are the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the annual gaming and electronics show in June; and the Anime Expo, the annual celebration of Japanese cartoons and comic books in July. Each is expected to draw as many as 40,000 attendees.

The new conventions booked this year include the Southern California Volleyball Assn.'s Jr. National Qualifier in March, the World Firefighter Games in August and the Society of Women Engineers in October. Each is expected to draw at least 3,500 attendees.

The L.A. Convention Center has 720,000 square feet of exhibit space, 46,000 square feet in two event halls and 102,000 square feet of column-free space in meeting rooms.

The Travel Exchange, a gathering of travel professionals and tour organizers, met last week at the Convention Center for the first time since 2000, said Bob Rouse, a spokesman for the National Tour Assn., which sponsored the event along with the United Motorcoach Assn.

The group came to Los Angeles because the Convention Center was big enough to hold its 3,600 attendees.

“We needed a larger venue and L.A. bubbled up to the top of the list,” he said. “We were eager to get out West and meet there.”

The city’s tourism industry could get a big boost from the event, Rouse said.

“By bringing all of these tour operators to the city, they can see firsthand what the city has to offer,” he said.