Jay Burress: Luxury Hotels Critical to Anaheim’s Success

Excerpted from this Sunday’s Commentary section in Orange County Register:

Something incredible is playing out in the Anaheim resort district, the flagship of Orange County’s tourism industry.

More than $2 billion is being invested to bring the magic of Star Wars to Disneyland, expand the Anaheim Convention Center, enhance hotel choices and improve parking and traffic for visitors and residents alike.

The changes are the most significant since the late-1990s expansion that turned the Anaheim resort district into a world-class destination.

Anaheim’s City Council on Tuesday can seize the chance to build on the resort’s transformation by clearing the way for modern luxury hotels as part of the city program adopted in 2015 to encourage four-diamond-quality lodging in Anaheim.

Luxury hotels are critical to Anaheim’s continued success.

The forthcoming Star Wars-themed lands and convention center expansion will bring millions of new visitors to the city. Part of providing a magical experience in our destination is also providing a variety of accommodation choices that meet a visitor’s specific needs. Adding additional luxury hotels is the best way to ensure those visitors also stay in Anaheim and uphold the important role hotels play in supporting services for residents.

By keeping more visitors in Anaheim, the city increases revenue to support police, firefighters, community programs and paying down debt.

Presently, Anaheim is the only major visitor market with so few luxury hotels. The city, which sees nearly 25 million annual visitors, is home to just two AAA four-diamond hotels.

Comparatively, the Orlando area, home to Walt Disney World, has more than 30 four-diamond hotels. San Francisco has 20, while Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas have 13 each. Phoenix, with no coastline or famous theme park, has seven.

You can chalk up Anaheim’s lack of luxury hotels to a historical anomaly.

While hard to imagine today, many questioned whether Disneyland would work when it opened in 1955.

Walt Disney was doing something no one else had done – creating a clean, appealing theme park where families would want to go.

But as an untested idea in the farm fields of Anaheim, hotel developers weren’t rushing to build alongside the new theme park.

Disneyland soon proved a hit, albeit a seasonal one. During summers, the park was packed. Other times, not so much.

So motels where family operators could live onsite and cater to summer visitors while waiting out the slower months sprouted up along Harbor Boulevard.

As Anaheim’s hotel market evolved, the 1980s saw the addition of convention hotels including the Hilton Anaheim and the Anaheim Marriott. Today, limited-service hotels for families are replacing many of the outdated motels of yesterday.

What’s missing? Luxury hotels.

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