Hotel Online  Special Report


Disneyland Helped Cultivate Anaheim Convention Activity; 
Supported First Visitor and Convention Bureau in 1961


By Sandi Cain, August 2005
Orange County Business Journal Staff

Disneyland is widely credited with putting Anaheim on the map. The theme park also has had a hand in making the city a convention destination. 

Disneyland was the impetus for a flurry of new hotels, motels and restaurants that sprung up after the theme park and Disneyland Hotel opened in 1955.

The hotel was the first of the convention hotels, with 400 rooms by 1960 and a Top of the Park Lounge where events could be held for up to 1,400 people. 

Disneyland also supported a new visitor and convention bureau in 1961 to help bring in business, while the city approved plans for a convention center, which opened in 1967.

Janice Ayres, the park’s first marketing director, previously handled marketing for the American Heart Association among other groups and leveraged her contacts to bring some of those groups to Anaheim.

Those conventioneers stayed in area hotels and often brought spouses or families along to visit Disneyland and other attractions. “That was a real plus,” said Bill Snyder, the visitor bureau’s first president.

The visitor bureau, in turn, reached out to potential groups that might include families.

“Everything was geared to bringing groups to Anaheim,” Snyder said.

In the early days, Snyder said a major challenge was convincing people it didn’t take more than a day to get to Anaheim from Los Angeles.
As the Anaheim Convention Center grew, so did Disneyland attendance. And as Disneyland grew, so did convention business.

By the time the tradeshow boom began in the 1980s, an already-solid convention business spurred big-name operators like Hilton Hotels Corp. and Marriott International Inc. to open convention hotels nearby. Those two hotels still are the anchors for the convention business today.

In the mid-1990s, Anaheim approved plans for the Anaheim Resort District. The project would result in more than $6 billion in public and private investment.

Changes included another expansion of the convention center, development of Disney’s California Adventure park, freeway fixes, and hotel, restaurant and entertainment development. 

The investment helped bring more than 1 million delegates to group events in each of the past three years.

Disneyland’s own meetings business has followed similar growth, evolving from company and union picnics to a big resort with programs that teach the Disney culture and themed parties at Disneyland or California Adventure.

It wasn’t long after Disneyland opened that the park started luring group business.

“Disneyland kicked around a lot of ideas about groups,” Ayres said. “They were always looking to fill slow times.”

One of the first efforts was a separate admission picnic area outside the gates of Disneyland geared mainly to families.

It was a typical scenario in other parts of the country, but not a successful one in California.

“That didn’t work out,” said Milt Albright, who managed the area. “Walt never really liked it.”

When Walt Disney closed HolidayLand, Albright headed up an effort to sell picnics to unions and other groups after hours or off-season (Disneyland wasn’t open year-round during its first decade).

“Roy (Disney) always said he wanted to maximize the utilization of existing facilities,” Albright said.

New Year’s, Rose Bowl Parties

The park hosted its first Christmas party the year it opened and first New Year’s party in 1958. The next year, it hosted the Rose Bowl teams for the first time—a tradition that continues today.

Its first private party was for the Knights of Columbus in 1960. Grad nights were added later.

In the off-season from September to May, Disneyland worked with the visitor bureau to sell private parties at Disneyland to convention groups.

“The park opened rides for conventioneers in the off-season,” said Bill Long, marketing director for Disneyland in the 1970s.  The fee: $6 per person. But the minimum number of attendees was 6,000, Long said.

Some groups bought out the whole park. Others held after-hours parties. Groups from Boeing Co., McDonnell Douglas, Bank of America, TRW and the U.S. Postal Service rented the park right along with unions and associations.

“Meetings kept Disneyland alive in the off-season,” Long said.

The addition of Space Mountain and the Main Street Electrical Parade during the 1970s added a spark for evening business, Long said.
In 1972, the Disneyland Hotel opened its own convention center, which let staff court larger groups. The hotel still has the most meeting and exhibit space of any hotel in the county. 

The new facilities brought in large groups like the Shrine of North America, an international Masonic fraternity.

By 1974, Disneyland Hotel also hosted sports events like the North American Open Dart Tournament, which drew roughly 1,000 people to Anaheim for two consecutive years.

“It was the first time the tournament was held outside L.A. and was one of the first major tournaments in the nation to be held in a hotel,” said Della Fleetwood, a Downey resident who was one of the tournament directors.

Fleetwood said the tournament committee heavily marketed the event as a family vacation to players outside the region. 

“It was a big deal to them to be able to go from the hotel by monorail into the park,” she said.

Donna Sue Davis, a former director of resort and park event sales and service with Disneyland Resort, said Disneyland was always well respected in the meetings market because of its high service levels and space for large conventions.

But meetings at the Disneyland Hotel in the 1970s were just that—meetings, said Maritza Rudisill, assistant director for catering and conventions for the Disneyland Resort.

“We didn’t have other places for guests to go,” she said.

Nevertheless, groups like the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, the California Credit Union League, the American Heart Association and the California Medical Association have returned year after year to Disneyland hotels. 

“The associations meet even in bad times when corporate groups (tend to) cancel,” Davis said. 

Changes in demographics and industry trends affect the mix of association business, but the sector has stayed healthy throughout the years, said Tony Bruno, vice president and general manager of Disneyland Resort hotels and Downtown Disney.

Family reunions were added in 1980 and now operate under a program called Magical Gatherings. In the mid-1980s, Disneyland began to go after small groups with a program called Enchanted Evenings. 

But it wasn’t until the Walt Disney Co. bought the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier Hotel and built the Grand Californian that the resort was able to sell different options for different sized groups.

“We’ve gone from a traditional hotel venue to a resort campus that has something for everybody,” Bruno said. 

Disneyland Hotel still caters to larger groups and those with exhibit hall needs. Paradise Pier Hotel is geared to more limited budgets and smaller groups, while high-end corporate groups and social events gravitate to the Grand Californian.

Disney Institute

In 2003, the Disneyland Resort added programs from the Disney Institute, in operation in Orlando since 1986. The Institute gives attendees the chance to meet Disney leaders and learn about its company culture through a series of programs and workshops.

Meeting planners can choose different modules in 30-minute, 90-minute or three-hour presentations. Another set of programs, dubbed Thinking Cap, are Disney-based courses in developing a creative culture and putting it to work in the corporate environment.

In Florida, thousands of business people from 35 countries and 40 different industries have taken part in the Disney Institute. It’s gaining ground in Anaheim, too, where a West Coast presenter recently was added to Disneyland Resort staff. 



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

Also See The Long-awaited Tourism Rebound Has Arrived in Southern California; Disneyland Said to be Drawing Thousands More Per Day than Expected / Sandi Cain / August 2005
Southern California Hotel Developers Put Hotel Plans on Hold as Land Prices Surge / Sandi Cain / July 2005
Ten California Coastal Resorts Put Aside Competition, Band Together to Make Marketing Pitch / Sandi Cain / May 2005
No Debuts and a Few Less Rooms Mark Hotel Scene in Orange Country, California / Sandi Cain / May 2005
All Grown Up in Anaheim; Tourism’s Come a Long Way Since Disneyland Opened in the 1950s / Sandi Cain / May 2005
Vying for Visitors; To Outsiders, Southern California is One Big Tourist Playground / Sandi Cain / April 2005
California Hotel Buying Seen Keeping Pace With 2004’s Record; The Hotel Market is Sizzling Again / Sandi Cain / April 2005
California's Orange County 50 Largest Hotels Report a 2% Growth in Meeting Space in 2004, Mainly a Result of Renovations, No New Hotels / Sandi Cain / January 2005
Anaheim Considers Business Improvement District to Fund Convention Center Growth / Sandi Cain / January 2005
Opened in 1962, the Hyatt Newporter Receives $13 million Remodel; Owner Sunstone Gives the 403 room Hotel New Name - Hyatt Regency Newport Beach / Sandi Cain / November 2004
Orange County California Hotels See Little Impact — Good or Bad — from Labor Turmoil in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Atlantic City, N.J. / Sandi Cain / November 2004
Sunstone Hotel Investors, Which Owns 77 Hotels, Files Plans for $400 Million; IPO Will Pay Off $80 million of its Debt with Part of Proceeds / Sandi Cain / October 2004
Anaheim City Officials Lobby Republicans and Democrats for a 2008 Convention; But Whether it’s Worth the Effort is a Matter of Debate / Sandi Cain / September 2004
Tarsadia Boosting Upscale Hotel Holdings With Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach Buy / Sandi Cain / August 2004
Anaheim Convention Center Occupancy at Post-renovation High of 81.8%, Future Bookings Solid / Sandi Cain / August 2004
Hotel, Upscale Gym Planned at Summit Complex in Aliso Viejo, California; a 175-room Renaissance ClubSport / Sandi Cain / July 2004
Hotel Design Has Come a Long Way from the Cookie-cutter Days of the 1980s; Designers Aim for Warm, Nurturing Feel Post-Sept. 11 / Sandi Cain / July 2004
Hotel Development in Orange County, California All But Dries Up; Handful of Small Hotels Opens, Little Construction Under Way / Sandi Cain / June 2004
The 6-year-old Orange County (California) Tourism Council May be Victim of Budget Cutbacks / Sandi Cain / June 2004
Long before Walt Disney Bought Land for Disneyland Park in the Early 1950s, Walter Knott Planted the Seeds of the Amusement Industry in Orange County, California / Sandi Cain / May 2004
Cities from Anaheim to Laguna Beach, Rife with New Resorts, Look to Grab Summer Business; Sunnier Outlook Ahead for Summer Travel Season / Sandi Cain / May 2004
Tony Bruno, VP and General Manager of Disneyland Resort Hotels, Maps Out 2004 Changes / Sandi Cain / March 2004
Disney Planning for Big Year in Anaheim Amid Board Drama / Sandi Cain / March 2004
Tourism Industry Rethinks Promotion on Security Issues Data / Sandi Cain / February 2004
Orange County’s 50 Largest Hotels with Meeting Rooms Report 3% Jump in Space in 2003 / Sandi Cain / January 2004
Tale of Two Converntions; Las Vegas Versus Anaheim: Trade Groups Take Opposite Tack in Convention Plans / Sandi Cain / January 2004
Meeting Bookers Optimistic 2004 Will Mark Rebound Despite Potential Hurdles; Attendance Boosts at Recent Conventions Have Made Orange County California Hoteliers Hopeful / Sandi Cain / January 2004
Hotels, Theme Parks in Orange County, California Start Aggressive Push for In-State Visitors During Holidays / Sandi Cain / November 2003
An Oranges to Oranges Comparison; Anaheim and Orlando Share Tourism and Meeting Destination Bent, Differ in Some Areas / Sandi Cain / August 2003
New Coastal Resorts Helped Orange County, California Post Gain in Hotel Rooms / Sandi Cain / August 2003
Orange County California Hotel Building Remains Sluggish; Bright Spot: the Burgeoning Resort Market along OC’s Pacific Coast / Sandi Cain / July 2003
Sunstone Hotel Investors LLC and Tarsadia Hotels Expanding by Going After Weaker Hotels in Key Markets / Sandi Cain / June 2003
Orange County's Travel Agencies Continue to Suffer from a Downturn in Travel / Sandi Cain / May 2003
Hoteliers Worry as War, Economy Hit Bookings; A Weak Tourism Industry Threatens to Get Weaker / Sandi Cain / April 2003
Budget Ax Threatens Orange County's Tourism Comeback / Sandi Cain / February 2003
Pacific Islandia California Inc., Owner of the 489-room Sheraton Anaheim Hotel, Files for Bankruptcy Protection; Bankruptcy Over Dispute, Not Results / Sandi Cain / February 2003
Security Detail; High-Profile Meetings Have Police on Special Alert / Sandi Cain / January 2003
New Hotels, Remodelings Spur Growth in Orange County Meeting Space Amid Slow Recovery / Sandi Cain / January 2003
Security Detail; High-Profile Meetings Have Police on Special Alert / Sandi Cain - January 2003
Tarsadia Hotels Building Residence Inns in Garden Grove, San Diego, Buys the 201-room Crowne Plaza in Las Vegas / Sandi Cain / Dec 2002
Bucking Convention - Anaheim Center Expansion Seems to Pay Off as Other Cities Struggle / Sandi Cain / Nov 2002
Ayres Breaks Ground on L.A. Hotel, Expanding Two Others / Sandi Cain / Oct 2002
Orange County California's Hotels, Convention Center Upbeat Despite New Competition and Weak Economy / Sandi Cain / Aug 2002
Ritz, Surf & Sand, Vie With Beach Resort Newcomers Along California's Orange County Coast; Almost 1,000 rooms Set to be Added / Sandi Cain / Aug 2002
Orange County California's Hotels, Convention Center Upbeat Despite New Competition and Weak Economy / Sandi Cain / Aug 2002
Montage Founder, Alan J. Fuerstman Sees Big Things for Laguna Colony Luxury Hotel, Acquired from Marriott International for $190 million / Sandi Cain / July 2002
Orange County’s $6 billion Annual Tourism Industry Shaking off the Downturn / Sandi Cain / May 2002
The Orange Riviera - New Luxury Hotels and Renovation Projects Transforming OC’s Coast / Sandi Cain / May 2001 
Orange County Hoteliers Hope for a Solid Summer Season to Regain Momentum / May 2002 / Sandi Cain
Hotel Brokers: From Sales to Consultants / Sandi Cain / Jan 2002 
Tourism Officials Focus on Security of Events and Sites as Key to Attracting Visitors / Sandi Cain / Jan 2002 
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 
Orange County Hotels Poised for Meetings Growth; Newcomers Help Bolster Total Space; Disneyland Hotel Still No. 1 / Sandi Cain / Jan 2001 


To search Hotel Online data base of News and Trends Go to Hotel.Online Search

Home | Welcome! | Hospitality News | Classifieds | Catalogs & Pricing | Viewpoint Forum | Ideas/Trends
Please contact Hotel.Online with your comments and suggestions.