LABJ: Hotel Inventory Crucial for Tourism’s Future

By: Jessica Lall, President & CEO, CCA

The white and airy honeycomb exterior of the Broad is now one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in L.A. The Music Center draws crowds with programming that ranges from operas to outdoor DJ nights, while Grand Central Market and DTLA’s many restaurants attract foodies in search of the perfect bite.

Travelers from around the world come to L.A. Live for sports and entertainment, and the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center is busy with events that fill hotels and restaurants with attendees.

Downtown’s unparalleled cultural attractions, growing convention business and thriving culinary and entertainment venues have made it an anchor for the region’s tourism industry. Indeed, the local trade hit an all-time high with 47.3 million visitors to the region in 2016, which contributed $21.9 billion to the local economy and accounted for one in every nine jobs in L.A. County. It now has six consecutive years of growth and is on track to hit Mayor Eric Garcetti’s goal of 50 million tourists by 2020.

The city’s recent success in landing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and winning the bid for the 2028 Olympics will bring even more tourists and social activity to the city center. DTLA will host the most Olympic events of any community – 16 – spread over Staples Center, the Convention Center, Coliseum and Grand Park.

Downtown is clearly critical to the success of one of the region’s most important industries. But L.A. falls behind many big cities in the number of visitors – a fact that owes in part to a shortage of hotel rooms to take full advantage of the convention trade.

New York has more hotel rooms than L.A. (111,000 vs. 98,646) and plans to add another 24,000 rooms by the end of 2019. Chicago has focused on conventions to increase tourism, which drew 916,888 attendees and produced $1.32 billion in economic impact in 2016.

L.A.’s Convention Center, meanwhile, set its own records last year. It celebrated its best year ever by achieving its highest occupancy rate – 74 percent – and hosting the most city-wide conventions and special events in its 46-year history. These events contributed $732 million to the region’s economy and resulted in 300,000 nights of hotel bookings.

But, even with these records, the Convention Center still needs to be modernized and offer increased contiguous space to be a competitive venue.

Downtown should continue to increase its number of hotel rooms to grow tourism in L.A. and support the Convention Center. The area has 5,162 hotel rooms existing or under construction but needs 8,000 rooms within walking distance of the Convention Center to be competitive with neighboring cities such as Anaheim (13,400 rooms) and San Diego (10,370 rooms).

The momentum to build more hotels is evident by current market demand and the recent performance of DTLA hotels, which have seen occupancy and room rates rise.

Mobility is a DTLA asset. It is a walkable community with an excellent transit network that is only getting better with the Regional Connector, MyFigueroa Streetscape Project and the Sixth Street Bridge. But we still need to improve mobility within DTLA with car-sharing and micro-transit so that tourists can easily move around its vibrant neighborhoods.

All of us who work and live here have a role in ensuring progress continues so that Downtown is a welcoming place for all, including visitors served by our tourism industry.

This is why Central City Association is hosting an important conversation about the industry on Oct. 19 at the JW Marriott with L.A.’s tourism experts. For more information or to attend this discussion, please visit www.ccala.org/tourism2017.