Tourism Rebounds in Orange County

By Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna
July 3, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

The tourism industry in Orange County, California, is once again booming, as more visitors make their way to its popular beaches and renowned attractions.

“We are breathing a little easier around here now,” Jay Burress, president and chief executive of Visit Anaheim, told The Epoch Times. “Things are coming around.”

Hotel occupancy in Anaheim—perhaps best known for being home to Disneyland—has doubled year-over year, reaching 70 percent capacity on weekends. However, it’s still lagging from pre-pandemic levels.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, hotel occupancy was typically greater than 90 percent, before falling to single digits last year.

The significant increase to near pre-COVID numbers leaves hope for the future of the city’s recovery.

“Each time Disney opens up more and more of their capacity, our numbers and occupancy will continue to grow,” Burress said.

The amusement park isn’t the only draw for the Orange County city, which also boasts the Anaheim Convention Center, the Honda Center, and Angels Stadium.

Visit Anaheim recently announced 55 confirmed events for the remainder of 2021, which are expected to bring an additional economic boost.

The events are set to bring in more than 187,000 attendees, further increasing hotel occupancies.

Of the scheduled events, 19 will be at the Anaheim Convention Center, with eight expected to draw in more than 105,000 attendees.

As the large-scale events begin to roll out, Anaheim officials said that they intend to follow state COVID-19 guidelines for events with more than 5,000 attendees. Those attendees will be required to show either a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.

The upcoming 2021 events alone are anticipated to bring in $231 million for the city, with an additional $2.9 million coming from tourism.

The city is also expected to increase revenue as Angels Stadium welcomes back fans at full capacity, the Honda Center welcomes back events, and Disney fireworks resume.

Anaheim anticipates having a strong 2022, but expects the business aspects to take several years into potentially 2024 before returning to pre-COVID numbers.

Leisure Travel

While the City of Irvine is generally more popular for corporate travel, leisure travel to the city has increased in recent weeks as well, Destination Irvine Vice President Wendy Haase said.

“We’ve seen an increase in our average daily rates the hotels are booking their rooms at, and at a number of our hotels, [rooms] have been sold out on weekends at full capacity occupancy.”

More people are staying in Irvine as sports tournaments and youth sports resume. Others are drawn to the abundance of local shopping, including the Irvine Spectrum. Restaurants within the city have also reported an upswing in guests.

Coastal Cities

The amount of visitors to Laguna Beach is rapidly increasing as more vacationers hit the beaches, Visit Laguna Beach President Ashley Johnson President noted.

“Laguna Beach is expecting a busy summer season,” Johnson told The Epoch Times. “It’s so refreshing to see our small businesses reopen their doors to welcome back guests.”

“It’s been a tough year-plus for all, so I’m looking forward to a busy summer and am hopeful our small businesses can make up some of their lost revenue.”

Local business owners are profiting from the return of tourists.

La Casa Camino hotel has been booked solid most weekends, with upward of 80 percent capacity during the week, General Manager Phelton Calhoun told The Epoch Times.

“Life has been placed on hold for so long, so we think everyone is eager to get out,” Calhoun said. “We have had full-house weekends for the past month. This is great to see and hopefully will have the economy bouncing back as well.”

Employment Crisis

Although Orange County cities are welcoming back visitors with the state’s reopening, some are struggling to find the staff necessary to accommodate them.

“Though hotels and restaurants are at full capacities, we are facing the difficulty of staffing these establishments fully,” Johnson said. “It appears that many of the employees who were laid off or furloughed when COVID hit, have either found other industries to work in, or are waiting for their unemployment benefits to run out.”

To combat the employment crisis, businesses in Laguna Beach are offering to increased pay, provided employee lunches, bonuses, and more.

Irvine and Anaheim are also experiencing staffing difficulty, especially in the hotel industry.

Burress credited the low staffing numbers to state unemployment funds, changes in careers, or those who have left the state permanently.

Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna