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L.A. Travel Industry Shows Signs of Post-9/11 Healing

It took three years to bounce back: The local travel industry had its strongest showing since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.


In August, the most recent period for which data has been compiled, L.A. County hotels reported an occupancy rate of 81.3 percent the highest since the Democratic National Convention was in town in August 2000.


Gains at local hotels were matched by traffic through Los Angeles International Airport, which saw August volume of nearly 5.9 million passengers, according to Los Angeles World Airports. That’s the strongest showing since August 2001, when more than 6.6 million passengers went through LAX.


The hotel occupancy gains were matched by higher average room rates, according to data compiled by hospitality tracking firm PKF Consulting. The average daily room rate countywide was $120.48, a 9.5 percent increase over the year-earlier period.


Feeding the growth were increases in both business and international leisure travel, said Bruce Baltin, a PKF senior vice president. Still, Baltin cautioned, the gains have yet to bring revenues per available room, a key measure of a hotel’s fiscal health, up to the levels of three years ago.


Hotel occupancy downtown led the market with a 28 percent year-over-year gain, to 74.3 percent. Beverly Hills benefited from international and corporate travel, as did the San Gabriel Valley, due to its large Asian population and Asian businesses, Baltin said. While the volume of Japanese tourists coming into Los Angeles is not as high as it was prior to Sept. 11, 2001, it too continues to increase.


“August was a very good month for us,” said John Stoddard, general manager of the Wilshire Grand in downtown Los Angeles.


Two big events the computer graphics conference Siggraph and a postal workers convention brought in 20,351 room nights for the 900-room hotel, compared with 17,000 room nights a year earlier.


The gains come against a backdrop of labor discord at nine of the county’s prominent hotels. Unionized workers represented by Unite HERE have been working without a contract for six months and the most recent round of talks broke down on Sept. 2, leading to recent talk of a boycott initiated by the union.


“We’re unable to reach an agreement with the unions and that will have some impact on bringing conventions and business to Los Angeles,” Stoddard said. “Most of the focus is on San Francisco and Atlantic City. Washington, D.C., and L.A. are waiting to see what happens next.”


At LAX, total August passenger volume was 8 percent higher than the year-earlier period. International passenger travel increased 9 percent, while domestic travel was up 7.6 percent. Year-to-date passenger traffic was up 11 percent to more than 41.2 million, compared with roughly 37.1 million for the same period in 2003.


If things continue apace, LAWA spokeswoman Gaby Pacheco said LAX would end the year with 61 million passengers, equivalent to 1998 levels.



SGM Goes W


The group behind such hotspots as the Ivar, Tengu, Lincoln Steakhouse and Nacional has been selected to operate Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.’s newly renovated restaurant at the W Hotel in Westwood.


Star Group Management Inc., made up of partners John Baydale, Rick Calamaro, Alan Nathan, Anton Posniak and Guy Ravid, will open 9 Thirty, after the hotel’s address at 930 Hilgard Ave.


The W’s restaurant space had been vacant since Mojo closed in April.

Innovative Dining Group, the firm behind Sushi Roku, was set to fill the space, but when its chef, Ludovic Lefebvre, went to Bastide, the deal fell apart.


Westwood business consultant Steve Sann brokered the deal between SGM and the W.


Star Group’s restaurant is slated to open in the Yabu Pushelberg-designed space before the end of November. Its executive chef is Kelley Courtney, former chef and partner at MOD in Chicago. Courtney was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Ten Best Chefs in 2001.


Staff reporter Rebecca Flass can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 230, or at

rflass@labusinessjournal.com

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