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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024

SUBWAY–Tourism Officials Say Subway Is Gravy Train

A coalition of local business and government officials, recognizing the vast economic potential of three new Metro Red Line stations opening on June 24, are aggressively moving to fully exploit that potential.

Tourism marketers are already talking up the Red Line with out-of-town meeting planners and tour operators, while many of the attractions in Hollywood and Universal City are participating in or exploring joint marketing opportunities. Among the options: discounts on each other’s attractions and reduced fares on the Red Line itself.

“So many tourists are afraid to drive around the city,” said Saul Leonard, a Century City-based hospitality industry consultant. “Once people hear they can get to these places by rail, it will greatly enhance these already popular attractions.”

While Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have been touting the expected increase in total ridership on the Red Line which now stands at more than 60,000 people a day the subway is finally promising real economic benefits that go beyond reducing local traffic congestion. An increase in local riders merely redistributes dollars within the region; getting out-of-town tourists to spend more money here means new dollars altogether.

This especially holds true for downtown convention-goers, many of whom probably haven’t even considered going to a place like Universal Studios; now that the Red Line is opening, they can get there quickly and conveniently, without renting a car.

That’s why the MTA, the L.A. Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the North Hollywood/Universal City Chamber of Commerce are working so hard to convince tourists to take the Red Line to visit Hollywood, Universal Studios and other attractions along the way.

The newly completed, 6.3-mile extension of the Metro Red Line will enable L.A. visitors to zip from Universal Studios to Hollywood the county’s two most popular tourist attractions in 10 minutes flat, and from downtown to Universal Studios in less than 30 minutes. Better yet, they won’t have to cope with any traffic or worry about where to park once they get there.

The extension opening June 24 has three stations: Hollywood Boulevard at Highland Avenue, where tourists already flock to Mann’s Chinese Theatre and TrizecHahn Corp. is building a $500 million retail center; Universal City, home of the Universal Studios Hollywood tour, CityWalk and the Sheraton Universal Hotel; and Lankershim Boulevard at Chandler Avenue in North Hollywood, right next to the burgeoning NoHo arts and theater district.

Opening ceremonies for the three new stations are scheduled for June 24, nearly 14 years and $4.5 billion after construction of the 17.4-mile Red Line began. All Red Line trains will be free for the first weekend; after that, the fare goes to $1.35.

Discount packages

In anticipation of heavy tourist usage, the MTA last year came out with a one-week, $11 pass for unlimited rides on all MTA subways, light rail and bus routes.

The MTA has also taken out ads in travel publications, both in the United States and abroad. The ads picture maps of L.A. showing the proximity of the stations to major attractions like theme parks, museums, theaters and hotels.

“We’ve gotten inquiries from as far away as Norway and the United Kingdom,” said Warren Morse, the MTA’s deputy executive officer for marketing and customer relations.

The LACVB made a big marketing push for the Red Line at last month’s meeting with international tour operators.

“We wanted to let them know that, with the opening of this Red Line extension, it’s possible to see many of the major tourist attractions in L.A. without a car,” said LACVB spokeswoman Carol Martinez. And, Martinez said, that doesn’t just include Universal Studios and Hollywood, but also Olvera Street and even the Queen Mary in Long Beach (via the Blue Line).

Until now, tourists who didn’t want to drive usually had to sign up with group tours to see most of L.A.’s major sights and attractions. But, Martinez said, there has been an increasing trend among tourists worldwide away from group tours, meaning many tourists who didn’t want to drive have stayed away from L.A. altogether.

Another step the LACVB has taken was to contact CityPass, a Bay Area firm that publishes booklets that offer package discounts for tourists at various attractions in U.S. cities. The firm published its first Hollywood booklet a month ago, in anticipation of the Red Line extension; it’s now trying to sell them to tour operators around the globe.

The Hollywood CityPass costs $50 and includes discount tickets to seven area attractions: Universal Studios, the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Museum of Television and Radio, the Museum of Tolerance and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage.

CityPass President Mike Gallagher said he had been looking to offer a CityPass booklet in L.A. for more than two years, but that it didn’t make sense without an easy way to get to Universal Studios.

“It’s Universal Studios that makes the whole package more attractive,” Gallagher said.

Universal on board

Universal Studios Inc. officials say they are offering a variety of discounts during the subway’s opening weekend for the theme park, the new Imax theater and several of the restaurants on CityWalk. After that, they’ll wait to see how the Red Line ridership develops before committing to any long-term marketing plans.

A Universal spokeswoman noted that the marketing department at Universal Studios already has installed promotional materials at the L.A. Convention Center aimed at luring convention attendees.

The nearby Hilton Universal City and Towers hotel also recently began promoting its soon-to-be easy access to downtown convention-goers.

“The Red Line will make all the hotels and attractions around here far more viable for people going to conventions, especially the larger ones that fill up most of the rooms downtown,” said Dawn Lindner, Hilton Universal’s director of sales.

But Lindner said it will probably take several months for the full effect of the Red Line to be felt.

“It’s all going to depend on how much publicity it gets in other cities,” she said. “It might take a few months for people in those cities to catch on that L.A. has a subway that can get you to many of the major attractions.”

In fact, the likelihood of a delayed boost has resulted in a wait-and-see approach by other hotels and tourism organizations. Among them: the Sheraton Universal Hotel and Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

“We anticipate that the Red Line extension will have a tremendous impact, but there has been a lot of skepticism built up over the years about the subway that still has to be overcome,” said Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the Hollywood chamber.

Gubler was referring to the long and tortuous subway construction process, which, among other things, resulted in the collapse of a portion of Hollywood Boulevard in 1995. That collapse garnered international media coverage and prompted a stream of late-night television jokes that turned Hollywood into a national laughingstock.

Gubler said the Hollywood chamber’s tourism committee has been looking at ways to market the increased access to the subway. And, he said, the chamber has had some preliminary discussions with Universal Studios, but no concrete plans for joint promotions have emerged.

“They are in the midst of planning a full-blown resort, where people will stay two or three days,” Gubler said, referring to Universal Studios’ expansion plans. “That’s when I would expect to see people visiting Universal Studios to start using the subway extensively to hop over the hill to Hollywood.”

On the local front, the Hollywood Entertainment District the business improvement district for Hollywood is talking with the Hollywood Bowl about the feasibility of asking the MTA to extend the Red Line operating hours to allow Hollywood Bowl patrons to take the subway home, according to the district’s director Kerry Morrison.

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