|By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 30, 2012--Hotels in Los Angeles County enjoyed record occupancy rates in July thanks to surging numbers of foreign and domestic tourists, as well as growing convention and conference visitors.
An average of 83.9% of all rooms were occupied in July, the highest rate for any month in the last 25 years, according to the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.
The record rate marks the seventh straight month of year-over-year increases and represents the latest indication that tourism -- one of the region's biggest industries -- has rebounded from the economic downturn.
"People are traveling now," said Mehdi Eftekari, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. "We've had a lot of Europeans. We have Middle Eastern travelers, and also people from the U.S. are traveling."
For the first seven months of the year, the average hotel occupancy rate was up 5% over the same period in 2011, and the tourism board forecasts that the county will welcome 41.33 million day and overnight visitors this year, a 2.4% increase from about 40.4 million visitors last year.
"This is all really very positive news, which is going to continue," said Mark Liberman, president and chief executive of the tourism board.
Meanwhile, passenger traffic at Los Angeles International Airport was up 2% in July over the same month last year. And the Los Angeles Convention Center is scheduled to play host to a total of 24 citywide conventions this year, the most since 2001, according to the tourism board.
Hotel managers and tourism officials attributed the improving visitor numbers to pent-up demand among travelers who stayed close to home in recent years. They also noted that Los Angeles is a gateway city for visitors from countries with relatively strong economies, including China, Japan and Australia.
"We are fortunate to be positioned to gain from visitors from the Pacific region," Liberman said.
For the second year in a row, Australia accounted for the most overseas visitors to Los Angeles, with 383,000 in 2011, a 6.2% increase from 2010.
Los Angeles may also be benefiting from a change in attitude about travel spending among Americans.
Destination was the first decision made by 34% of travelers; next in importance was type of trip (33%), setting a budget (18%) and searching for deals (8%), according to a survey of 2,527 U.S. households conducted by the marketing and research firms MMGY Global and Harrison Group.
Also, 26% of vacationers this year said they preferred upscale hotels and resorts compared with just 15% in 2011, according to the survey.
Such an attitude may be benefiting some of Southern California's high-end hotels.
Luxe hotels in Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles reported an 11% increase in revenue this summer over the summer of 2011 and an 18% increase year to date.
"It's really phenomenal and a great sign," said Efrem Harkham, founder and chairman of Los Angeles-based Luxe Hotels. "Hopefully, we will see this trend continue."
Javier Cano, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotel complex in downtown Los Angeles, also attributes the higher tourism numbers to the "renaissance of downtown Los Angeles," particularly with the opening of new restaurants, clubs and theaters over the last few years.
He declined to disclose exact occupancy rates for his hotels this summer but said they exceeded 80%.
"I definitely think that the economic conditions are something to consider, but I think Los Angeles is faring better than the overall country," Cano said.
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