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Los Angeles is in the prime position, literally, to benefit from the surge in Chinese travelers by serving as a starting to any trip in the United States.
Los Angeles enjoyed another banner year for tourism in 2012, when it welcomed 41.4 million visitors, surpassing the record set in 2011.
Last year’s tourist total represents a 2.5% increase over the 40.4 million visitors in 2011 — good news for the city’s $16.5-billion tourism industry, according to the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.
Tourism is one of the region’s largest industries, supporting 372,000 jobs in Los Angeles County.
“Los Angeles County’s leisure and hospitality industry is one of the few that has regained all of the jobs and surpassed those positions lost in the recession,” said Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, an associate economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “It’s gotten a lot more healthy.”
Experts attribute the increase in visitors to several factors, including a surge in high-spending foreign visitors and a rebound in domestic travel, plus big investments in the last decade in hotels, theaters and other tourist attractions in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.
The $970-million JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel complex, across from the Los Angeles Convention Center, and a new $350-million high-end W Hotel, near Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, both opened in 2010.
“I think there is a real buzz about Los Angeles, especially internationally,” said Mark Liberman, who retires Tuesday as president and chief executive of the tourism board.
Madame Tussauds, a $55-million wax statue attraction, opened next to the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 2009, and Universal Studios Hollywood spent an estimated $100 million for its newest high-tech ride, Transformers: the Ride 3-D, which opened in May.
“This one-of-a-kind thrill ride raised the bar to attract a worldwide audience,” said Larry Kurzweil, president of Universal Studios Hollywood.
But it was not all good news for L.A. “Iris,” the Cirque du Soleil show that tourism officials hoped would become a long-running tourist attraction at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, closed last year because of disappointing ticket sales.
Hotel occupancy in Los Angeles set a record last year at 75.4%, surpassing the previous record of 75.1%, set in 2006, according to the tourism board. Visitors spent 26.64 million hotel room nights in the city last year, generating $180 million in taxes, according to the board.
Los Angeles has also benefited from its geography: Tourists from Asia tend to stop in Los Angeles before continuing on to other destinations in the U.S., including Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York.
International tourists represent about 15% of all visitors to Los Angeles.
China now generates the greatest number of overseas visitors to the city, with 339,000 last year. They spent an average of $2,932 a visit to California, compared with about $1,883 for all overseas visitors to the state, according to state tourism officials.
“The Chinese do tend to spend more, which is a good thing,” Ritter-Martinez said.