Who wants to hang around you when you're down on your luck? And yet California, mired in budget distress and other economic woes, continues to attract visitors: Tourism was up more than expected in 2010, with visits predicted to end the year up 4%.
Credit the better-than-expected performance to strong growth among international and business travelers, as well as leisure travelers who upgraded their day trips to overnight stays, according to consultants Tourism Economics. Expect to see an uptick in tourism from South Korea, because the visa requirement has been waived, and mainland China.
And for 2011? "The indices for travel are pointing up," said Skip Hull, economist and vice president at CIC Research in San Diego. The California Travel & Tourism Commission forecasts continued growth for 2011, with total travel up 3.1% and travel spending up 5.6%.
An eclectic array of attractions and events is expected to spur that growth. In Southern California, a retrospective of filmmaker Tim Burton's work will open in May at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; a new resident Cirque du Soleil production at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood is set to open in July; and in October more than 60 local museums and performing arts groups are planning exhibits and programming as part of "Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980," focused on artists working in the region in the post-war era.
In Northern California, the Ripley's Believe It or Not! San Francisco Odditorium, a tourist favorite on Fisherman's Wharf, reopened last summer after a $5-million makeover and the addition of more than 70 exhibits, many of them interactive. For those seeking non-wine-related thrills in Napa Valley, a new seven zip-line course will open in October.
Hotel and resort operators around the state are revamping and upgrading their facilities rather than building new ones. Hyatt scion John Pritzker spent more than $35 million renovating Carmel Valley Ranch (www.carmelvalleyranch.com), which reopened in September. Its 139 guest rooms sport iPod docking stations and wood-burning fireplaces. There's also a new spa, organic garden and beekeeping facility.
In San Diego, the Lafayette Hotel & Suites (www.lafayettehotelsd.com), once a Hollywood hideaway with an Olympic-size pool designed by Johnny Weissmuller of "Tarzan" fame, is installing energy and water-efficient elements as part of a $4-million renovation. A new restaurant and bar are open, and all guest rooms have been renovated.
In downtown L.A., the Holiday Inn City Center has been rebranded as the Luxe City Center Hotel (www.luxecitycenter.com). Renovations are complete in the 164 rooms and 16 suites, but work is still underway in the lobby and pool areas. Also downtown, developers Korean Air and Thomas Properties Group are planning to demolish the Wilshire Grand Hotel in December, replacing it with an office tower and hotel and condo complex. If approved, the project is expected to be completed in 2015.
Travelers can expect to see fallout from the California's fiscal woes at its state parks; a permanent $14-million cut this budget year has led to service reductions and partial closures of parks and campgrounds. Bathrooms are cleaned and trash is hauled less often, and campfire programs were eliminated at many locations.
Still, "people love their camping vacations and worked around our budget problems," Roy Stearns, state parks spokesman, said in an e-mail. "We get about 70 million visits to parks yearly, and those doing all that visiting are pretty set in wanting their camping and beach trips." But, Stearns noted, the parks are "bare bones," and the public will notice the lack of repairs.