Luxury hotels in Los Angeles are basking in the warm glow of success as summer fades into fall.

Since bottoming out in 1993, both the occupancy rates and average nightly room rates at L.A.'s high-end hotels have been steadily improving.

"Hotels are doing very well this year, especially the luxury market," said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of PKF Consulting, a Century City group that monitors the hospitality industry. "In fact, it's doing better than the market overall."

Occupancy in L.A.'s luxury category defined as hotels with average daily room rates of greater than $150 was 70.14 percent in 1993, and the average room rate for the category was $214.21.

But that occupancy rate has improved each year through 1996 by a percentage point or more, and the average room rate has risen about $25 per year.

The luxury market's improvement has continued into 1997.

For the first six months of this year, the average daily room rate for L.A. luxury hotels, at $212.87, was about $20 higher than for the like period last year. And the occupancy rate was 76.95 percent for the period, up from 75.76 percent for the year-earlier period.

Chris Chiotis, trends coordinator at PKF, said that while a rise in occupancy rates of a percentage point or two may not seem significant on its own, it is a powerful indicator of market vitality when the growth is continuous and is coupled with room price rises.

The Four Seasons at Beverly Hills is characteristic of the local luxury hotels experiencing this recovery.

"Business really took a knocking after the riots and the earthquake, but occupancies and prices are back to and exceeding their original levels," said the hotel's General Manager, William Mackay. "After those events, occupancy fell a full 10 points, which is where a luxury hotel's profitability lies."

Mackay declined to provide specific numbers on occupancy and room rates, but said both have gone up "significantly" in the past few years.

At the Argyle Hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, the average daily room rate is up about $16, at $187, from the same time last year, said Rex Bergstrand, director of sales. That rise in average room rate this year has been coupled with a rise in the occupancy rate to nearly 80 percent up substantially from the year-ago occupancy level of just under 72 percent.

"Our growth is because of the resurgence of the Sunset Strip," Bergstrand said. "There's a lot more attention paid to this area again, with the House of Blues being popular and with the draw of other things like the renovated Mondrian Hotel."

Jacques Villeneuve, general manager of the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, said the occupancy rates and prices have been steadily rising since its 1995 reopening, after being completely closed for two and a half years for a major renovation. Villeneuve declined to provide specific numbers on the hotel, which is owned by the London-based Audley Group. He did, however, say the hotel's operating profit for the first six months of this year was 63 percent higher than for the like period last year.

"Both the occupancy rate and the average prices are up substantially this year," said Villeneuve.

Baltin, the analyst at PKF, noted that the strongest growth in room occupancies and rates is in the West Los Angeles and Santa Monica areas, due to the burgeoning demand for upscale accommodations by entertainment industry business travelers.

Mackay of the Four Seasons said he has noticed a significant growth in tourists at his hotel, particularly from Japan and the United Kingdom.

"It seems like more people are coming from abroad and really ready to spend some money," Mackay said.

While the performance of L.A.'s luxury hotels has been steadily improving, L.A.'s less-expensive accommodations have performed much more erratically, with both occupancy rates and room rates lurching up and down. At many points durring 1994 and 1995, less-expensive hotels were able to achieve higher occupancy rates, but only by keeping room rates stagnant, or sometimes even cutting them.

The average room rates for the four lower-priced hotel categories in L.A. did improve during the first half of 1997, compared with the like year-earlier period, but those increases were around $5 at the most.

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