Economic woes might keep some Asian tourists at home, but the good news far outweighs the bad when it comes to L.A. tourism.

The just-opened Getty Center museum, which has received a steady stream of international and domestic press attention, leads the list of attractions that will boost 1998 tourism beyond 1997 levels both in terms of visitors and spending.

In addition to the Getty, new local attractions will include:

- The February opening of the California Science Center in Exposition Park at the Museum of Science and Industry. It will have a 3-D Imax theater seven stories tall rather than the usual five stories and four interactive exhibit areas.

- The spring opening of a revamped Tomorrowland at Disneyland with two new thrill rides, an interactive technology pavilion and a 3-D movie attraction called "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience."

- The June opening of the $100 million Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Promoters claim it will have the world's biggest coral reef on exhibit.

No major L.A.-area attractions opened in 1997 (except for the Getty, which opened too late in the year to have a significant impact on tourism), but the number of overnight visitors to L.A. County nonetheless rose by about 2 percent from a year earlier to 23.7 million, according to preliminary estimates from the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Los Angeles Convention Center has 30 major meetings and conventions scheduled for 1998, a significant jump from the 19 events in 1997. That increase is noteworthy considering such events are three days long, on average.

Most of 1998's Convention Center events were booked in 1995 or 1996, when confidence about L.A. as a destination began to improve after several years of economic troubles.

Hotels are reflective of the visitor increase. The average room occupancy rate for L.A. County is projected to be 74.2 percent for 1998, which would be a 2.5 percent gain over 1997 estimates, according to PKF Consulting. The average daily room rate for L.A. County is projected to rise to $103, for a 6.7 percent increase over 1997.

Downtown Los Angeles hotels are expected to see the biggest rise in average occupancy in 1998, while Santa Monica is projected to have the biggest jump in the average price for a room.

Even with this rising demand, there will be little in the way of new hotels opening in 1998. The biggest will be the 250-room Hyatt Hotel slated to open in Valencia in February.

"There will be no major hotels opening during 1998," said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president at PKF Consulting. "There are some people looking for sites and some people who own land looking for projects. I think we can expect some big announcements of projects in 1998."

One imponderable for 1998: the effect that Asia's financial crisis might have on local tourism. After all, Japan, Taiwan and Korea represented three of the top five foreign markets for L.A. tourism in 1997.

Wade Daniels

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