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Disney, Hotels See Solid 2008 Q1;
Pondering Summer

By Sandi Cain
Orange County Business Journal Staff

March 2008 - Executives at the Disneyland Resort and the city’s hotels and other tourist businesses are wondering what’s in store for the critical season, as the economy slips and high gas and other prices play out among consumers.

At stake is whether a solid first quarter—bolstered by big conventions and an early Easter—continues into spring and summer. What happens from April to June could set the stage for the rest of the year.

As it is, tourism has been a bright spot in the local economy so far this year.

In a February conference call, Tom Staggs, chief financial officer for Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., said first-quarter hotel and travel package bookings in Anaheim were showing “double-digit increases” from a year earlier, thanks to Easter coming this past weekend instead of in April. 

“We’re pleased with the current pace of business at the parks,” Staggs said. “We’re positioned well to take advantage of economic conditions.”

The company is looking to marketing and “sophisticated yield management tools” that help craft special offers to keep its three Anaheim hotels full, Staggs said.

Earlier this month, Disney debuted a parade featuring characters from its Pixar movies at Disney’s California Adventure, its second Anaheim theme park alongside Disneyland Park. A weekend wine and food festival was upped from weekends to each day through April.

The first quarter usually is busy in Anaheim. About a quarter of the city’s yearly convention visitors come during the first three months of the year. Cheerleading competitions and basketball tournaments bring even more visitors. 

An early Easter added to all of that.

“Wherever Easter falls is what does well,” said Kelly Guinn, director of sales and marketing at the Anabella Hotel across the street from Disneyland and next to the Anaheim Convention Center. 

The outlook for summer is mixed, according to hoteliers.

Bookings are “slower than last year,” said Cindy Smith, director of sales for the Sheraton Anaheim, which looks to prebooked international groups to help fill rooms.

At Hilton Garden Inn near Disneyland, “It’s not looking like a slowdown for summer yet, but the booking window is short,” said Judee Fowler, director of sales.

Economists still see tourism as a bright spot for the year. 

“The region’s tourism industry should see nice growth trends during the 2008-2009 time frame, thanks to a declining U.S. dollar, an agreement between the U.S. and China allowing more leisure travel to the U.S. and a lengthy roster of events that will keep Southern California in the national and international spotlight,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which also tracks Orange County.

Much rests with Disney, which drives the local tourism industry. 

The company is opening the first phase of a multiyear makeover of California Adventure and adding other attractions to draw visitors. 

The Pixar Play Parade debuted on March 14 with characters from every Disney-Pixar movie and a cast of more than 100 performers. It’s set to run once a day at California Adventure.

In June, Disney plans to open the Toy Story Mania ride at California Adventure’s Paradise Pier section. The ride based on the “Toy Story” movies is the first part of a plan to remake much of the struggling park into themes from Disney-Pixar movies. 

At Disneyland, the Innoventions at Tomorrowland exhibit is getting a makeover with input from Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and others. It’s set to open in June with a display of home technologies.

Another round of Disney Cruises from the West Coast also could give the Disneyland Resort a bump in visitors as passengers from a dozen one-week trips to Mexico may add visits to the Anaheim parks to their vacations. 

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: Hotel Renovations and Expansions During 2007 Produce a Small Gain in Hotel Meeting Space in Orange County, California; Disneyland Hotel the Largest with 136,000 square feet of Space / Sandi Cain / January 2008
The Meetings and Convention Industry is Booming in Orange County (Anaheim Area) as Competition from Los Angeles and San Diego Intensifies / Sandi Cain / August 2007
Meeting, Exhibit Space Tightening at Anaheim Convention Center; Anaheim Currently Ranks No. 6 in the Nation in Trade Shows. Expansion on the Way? / January 2007


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