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Hotels, Theme Parks in Orange County, California Start Aggressive Push for In-State Visitors During Holidays
Halloween marked the start of an aggressive push by theme parks, tourist attractions and hotels to lure travelers to Orange County for the holidays.

By SANDI CAIN, November 2003

The tourism industry—still looking to regain prosperity not seen since before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—is hoping to boost visitors by going after its most promising target of late: locals.

Californians take almost 22 million trips within the state in November and December, according to the California Division of Tourism. About 3 million non-Californians typically visit the state during the period.

It can be a lucrative time for tourism businesses, with about 9% of all U.S. travel taking place in December, according to the Travel Industry Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. And vacationers tend to spend a lot of money during the holiday season.

Locally, hotels have been posting better numbers. Orange County’s average occupancy rate in August was 81.4%, versus 57.7% last December, according to Los Angeles-based PKF Consulting.

The Halloween Haunt at Buena Park’s Knott’s Berry Farm and the Haunted Mansion Holiday at Anaheim’s Disneyland marked October as the kickoff month for end-of-year holidays.

Promotions for these events began as early as August. Not far behind are festive holiday reminders: shopping packages, tree lighting, Santa visits—even an ice rink at the pier in Huntington Beach. All of this was announced by the time the kids were back in school. And it’s seemingly geared to a local market.

But many of these special events also bring overnight business to hoteliers—a welcome sight in November and December, traditionally slow months for the hotel business.

At Knott’s, where the Scary Farm is a Halloween ritual for local teens, spokeswoman Michele Wischmeyer said the celebration “absolutely” drives business to the onsite Radisson Resort.

“We have a full house on Fridays and Saturdays in October,” she said.

Knott’s, credited with starting the Halloween theme park craze in 1973, featured a less-scary experience this year for youngsters, renaming its Peanuts-themed section Camp Spooky.

The popularity of Halloween wasn’t lost on the Disneyland Resort, which launched its own Halloween-related attraction two years ago. Dubbed the Haunted Mansion Holiday, it features a makeover of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion that combines elements of Halloween and Christmas inspired by Tim Burton’s film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Disneyland’s New Orleans Square was decked out in Halloween decor, and park eateries near the mansion served up meals with the haunted mansion theme.

Disneyland often is packed on the Thanksgiving weekend and New Year’s Eve. Disney hotels were full during the holidays, even in 2001.

But Disneyland spokesman John McClintock said that booking lead times still are too short to predict how holiday season hotel packages will be received.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the holi-days will bring a good response,” he said.

Disneyland will launch its seasonal fireworks show and snow showers on Main Street this weekend. At California Adventure, a Santa’s Beach Blast in the main plaza is set to play off contrasting seasons by putting traditional holiday characters into settings from California’s beach culture.

Hotels outside of theme parks have come up with other ways to bring in guests over the holidays. Special holiday dinners are one way. Aqua restaurant at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa, for one, plans to offer nightly specials based on the holiday song, “The 12 Days of Christmas,” during the season.

Meanwhile, fundraisers like the Teddy Bear Village at Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach and the Gingerbread Village at the Four Seasons Newport Beach inspire receptions and drop-in visitors. To some extent, they inspire overnight stays as well.

“It does bring in occupancy, from holiday parties that have guests staying over to people visiting loved ones in the area,” said Jim Kelley, director of marketing at the St. Regis in Dana Point.

St. Regis holiday attractions include a sand sculpture in the lobby, a holiday tree lighting event, gingerbread classes for kids and special spa packages for adults.

“Last year, there was a 20% gain in occupancy and we are expecting something close to another 20% increase for this year,” Kelley said.

Another hook is shopping.

The Costa Mesa Conference & Visitors Bureau is offering a drive-and-dine package to the regional market that includes a special rate at member hotels and a $40 dining certificate.

“It sells really well,” said Bill Allison, director of sales at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel across the street from South Coast Plaza.

Allison said the Westin never has created its own shopping packages, but he notices a distinct uptick in Thanksgiving weekend business that he believes is partly made up of shoppers.

“We see as much as a 30% to 40% bump in business,” he said.

In Laguna Beach, Surf & Sand general manager Blaise Bartell said the resort gets a “modest” boost from holiday specials.

This year the resort has teamed with South Coast Plaza and the hotel’s marketing partners to create a shoppers’ package for the first time.

The Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach will celebrate its first holiday season with a shopping package and a spa package that cost $900 to $2,500, as well as special programs for tots and special menus at its restaurants.

Meanwhile, the Hilton Anaheim, Orange County’s largest hotel, is promoting a different kind of Thanksgiving. Called “Best Bud,” the package includes a two-night stay during the Thanksgiving weekend with live performances by the canine celebrity from “Air Bud.”

Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.


Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA

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Orange County Travel Agencies Bear Brunt Last Week, Waiting For Fallout / Sandi Cain / Sept 2001 
St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa Opening Adds to Competition in South Orange County California / Sandi Cain / Aug 2001 
The Orange Riviera - New Luxury Hotels and Renovation Projects Transforming OC’s Coast / Sandi Cain / May 2001 
Ayres Hotel Group Expands, Rebrands / Sandi Cain / March 2001
Orange County’s Hoteliers Relieved as Anaheim Convention Center Expansion Boosted Occupancy and Rates During Past Year / Sandi Cain / May 2001
Indomitable Disney / Bad News Doesn’t Tarnish the Mouse; Slowing Economy Another Matter /  / Feb 2001 
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