Los Angeles to hire tourism consultant to suggest fixes for gridlock and homelessness

Tourists take photos in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on May 2, 2017. Los Angeles plans to hire a consultant to try to boost tourism despite traffic gridlock, a lack of hotels and a stubborn homeless problem.
(Christina House / For the Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has set a goal of welcoming 50 million tourists a year by 2020.

Now the city is looking for a consultant who can help address problems that might block the city from reaching that goal, such as traffic gridlock, a shortage of hotel rooms and stubborn homelessness near tourism sites.

The request for proposals comes as tourism officials worry that President Trump’s travel ban and the harsh rhetoric from the White House about immigrants may give international travelers the message that they aren’t welcome in the City of Angels.


The final value of the contract will depend on which consultant is chosen and how much that consultant requests. The city has already set aside $250,000 in its budget this year for the proposal.

Unlike a marketing plan, the proposed five-year tourism development plan is intended to come up with ideas to make Los Angeles capable of hosting more tourists, said Doane Liu, executive director of the Department of Convention and Tourism Development.

“We want to look at what does the city of Los Angeles need to do for its infrastructure and planning to handle more tourists,” he said.

By October, the city hopes to hire a private consultant to come up with plans for addressing “current and upcoming challenges” facing the city’s efforts to boost tourism, according to the city’s request for proposals. The challenges listed in the request include traffic gridlock, the need for sustainable growth, the need for more hotels near the downtown convention center and the persistent homeless population near tourism sites.

“The development plan should analyze whether steps can be taken proactively to improve the visitor’s experience while being sensitive to the crisis at hand,” the request for proposals says about the homeless problem. Proposals are due Aug. 24.

A recent count of the homeless population in the county found it has declined for the first time in several years, but the number of tents, vehicles and makeshift shelters has increased.


Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, noted that some visitors to Hollywood Boulevard are turned off by the sight of homeless people.

“How you deal with that is always a challenge,” he said.

Gubler suggested the city focus on creating new attractions to draw tourists, such as the recent proposal by Warner Bros. to build a $100-million aerial tram to the famed Hollywood sign, starting from a parking structure next to the studio’s Burbank lot.

“You have to make your destination compelling,” he said.

Some large cities where recreational marijuana smoking is legal — such as Seattle and Denver — have capitalized on cannabis tourism. Liu said he wants the consultant to suggest what Los Angeles could do to host cannabis tourists.

The county welcomed 41.2 million domestic visitors and 7.3 million international visitors in 2017, a 2.6% increase over 2016 — marking the seventh straight year of new highs, according to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. The visitors injected $22.7 billion into the county’s economy last year, the board said in a recent study.

Last year, the convention board launched a campaign aimed at social media feeds in Canada, Mexico, China, Britain and Australia with the message that Los Angeles welcomes all visitors.

There is good reason for the concern. Tourism represents one of the largest employers in Los Angeles County, with more than 500,000 jobs supported by the leisure and hospitality industries.


Although overall tourism numbers have been on the rise, visitation numbers from Mexico dropped 2.8% last year — a significant development because Mexico has been the biggest source of visitors to L.A. County. But the drop in visitors from Mexico has been made up for by an increase in tourists from China and Canada — the second- and third-largest sources of tourists to the region.

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