Long Beach’s hospitality and tourism sector continues to be one of the strongest economic drivers for the city. As reported by the Business Journal in December, 2017 was the “best year ever” for tourism in Long Beach, and the outlook for 2018 seems to be just as positive.
Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, expects the local hospitality and tourism industry to continue surpassing expectations in 2018. Upgrades to the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center are garnering the city a reputation as a top convention destination – and more improvements are on the way. Local hotel managers throughout the city report that their facilities are directly benefiting from the increased convention business.
Local hotels and attractions expect another strong year in 2018 as Long Beach continues to receive positive press across the country as a must-see destination. Rainbow Harbor is pictured in the foreground, home to the Aquarium of the Pacific, which is undergoing an expansion. (Business Journal photograph)
In addition to bustling convention activity, overall improvements in the Downtown Long Beach area – from upgraded shopping centers to new restaurants and retailers – are also helping drive customers to businesses dependent on tourism, such as Catalina Express, a water-shuttle service to Catalina Island.
Occupancy rates at local hotels are strong, and many report that they have been able to increase room rates. These strong economic underpinnings are perhaps the driver for new hotel developments in the city. Hampton Inn & Homewood Suites, a new 241-room dual-brand hotel at Douglas Park, recently opened. John Molina, former COO of Molina Healthcare, and a group of investors recently purchased the historic Breakers building on Ocean Boulevard with the intention of converting it to a boutique hotel.
The city’s attractions are reporting optimistic outlooks for 2018, and are investing in their facilities with additions and expansions. Carnival Cruise Line’s upgraded, expanded terminal is slated to open in February to accommodate larger cruise ships and more passengers. The Aquarium of the Pacific is also expanding, with construction on its new Pacific Visions wing underway.
Editor’s note: the following are guest perspectives from industry executives about the hospitality and tourism outlook for 2018.
Vice President Hotel Operations at Hotel Maya – a Doubletree by Hilton
The Long Beach hospitality industry is poised for moderate growth in 2018. This trajectory is influenced by several factors, including the positive path projected for the Long Beach hospitality and tourism industry and national forecasts.
According to CBRE, the U.S. lodging industry will enjoy continued growth in all major metrics in 2018. CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research is forecasting year-over-year increases in occupancy at 0.1%, average daily room rate at a 2.3% rise, and rooms revenue at 2.4%.
The Long Beach market experienced strong growth in 2017 and should continue on that path, though more moderately, into 2018, according to all indicators.
Long Beach is benefiting from resurgence in construction including the new civic center, a 22,000-foot expansion to the Aquarium of the Pacific, and other mixed-use projects in the downtown area. Douglas Park is completing its final parcels, the Long Beach Exchange will open soon, the Second Street and Pacific Coast Highway project is finally underway, and the Queen Mary is now in restoration mode. These projects bring new jobs, new businesses, new residents and tourists – all who can and will enjoy the numerous hotels and restaurants in Long Beach.
With that, the city is investing millions of dollars in upgrading the convention center and its many available unique meeting spaces. These improvements have led to great media coverage and in the long run, good business.
With all of the positive things happening in Long Beach, Hotel Maya continues to attract this growing corporate and leisure business with all of its unique spaces. As Long Beach’s only resort-style hotel at the water’s edge, Hotel Maya is poised to continue to grow as the city’s tourism grows and as the residential and business base grows as well.
All in all, 2018 should be a solid year for hotels in Long Beach.
President, Catalina Express
As a business owner with operations in Downtown Long Beach for over 28 years, we have seen the city reinvent itself as a premier vacation destination. With the extraordinary growth and economic development in Long Beach, tourism overall has increased for all businesses around the area, including Catalina Express.
Thanks to the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) for their efforts in showcasing Long Beach as a leading destination for conventions and getaways, Long Beach has seen a healthy increase in visitation year after year and a strong presence going into 2018. With continuous improvements to downtown and promotion of attractions and major events like the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor and CHILL, Long Beach draws more tourism to the area, leading to a strong economic impact to surrounding businesses.
With great Southern California weather and further expansion of Catalina Island, 2017 was Catalina Express’s record-breaking year as we carried 1.2 million passengers. Catalina has seen new activities springing up with the new Aerial Adventure ropes course at Descanso Beach Club and the evolvement of Two Harbors’ Harbor Sands with palapas and food and beverage service right on the beach. We have seen an increase in passengers coming from out of state, and even out of the country, especially Canada and the United Kingdom. We are certain this pattern will not stop but only grow in the future.
With 60% of Catalina Express passengers departing from the Long Beach, we have learned more and more tourists are interested in day trips to Catalina Island, which is suitable for everyone from families to couples, and even convention attendees looking to getaway after the meeting. With easily accessible public transportation such as Long Beach Transit, more visitors have the ability to explore the city’s attractions or nearby getaways like Catalina.
As these efforts by Long Beach partners expand and come to fruition in 2018, this next year stands to be another strong year for the city and Catalina Express.
President & CEO, Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
For 2018, we’re forecasting, and our hotel partners are forecasting, another great year. Every year has continued to supersede the prior year.
We’re forecasting another, on average, 2.5% increase in revenue per available room. The convention center again is running at full capacity. The Arena alone, which is a brand-new space, has grown in usage approximately 45% in four years. We now have very few dates available in the Arena because of demand. The convention center this year has been recognized as a “trailblazer” within a variety of industry publications. This is because we’ve designed a space that encourages networking – and millennials love spaces that are designed for networking. They also like unique experiences when it comes to special events or parties.
In addition to our Pacific Room at the Arena, with the new Cove and the upcoming fountains, lighting and music on the Terrace Theater Plaza we now have three very unique spaces for special events. Therefore, the convention center only continues to get more robust in its usage because these spaces are driving convention business.
The CVB just won an award from two major trade publications, Successful Meetings and Meetings & Conventions, as the best CVB in the West. The runner-up was Las Vegas and the second-runner up was San Diego. Out of the entire west coast, voters who are meeting planners voted for Long Beach as the best CVB in the West. That’s really important because it demonstrates the relationship-selling and relationship-servicing that we’ve executed at the CVB, the convention center and our hotel partners. And that’s what continues to make Long Beach really strong. We’re cutting edge, we’re trailblazing, and we shower people with service.
General Manager, Hilton Long Beach
2018 looks to be a very good year for the Hilton and for hospitality overall. Changes with the convention center continue to attract new types of business to the city because of all the space that has been activated. That in turn puts Long Beach more and more on the map for other types of travel. We’re excited about plans that are in the works for the Queen Mary and the Civic Center. The development in those areas continues to add to what will make Long Beach an even more popular destination. We don’t see any great growth at the Hilton this coming year. It will be very slim, moderate growth. Our overall occupancy will remain about the same.
President and CEO, Aquarium of the Pacific
We’re six months into a major expansion that will redefine the Aquarium. When we reopen in the spring of 2019, we will give Long Beach one of the world’s great aquariums with new iconic architecture.
We finished 2017 with an attendance of over 1.7 million for the second year in a row. It was the best year financially that we’ve had in 20 years. This year we’ll be in the middle of construction, so we’re budgeting down just a little bit, but I think we’ll still have close to 1.7 million visitors.
With all the good news about the convention center, I think it’s going to be a very good year for conventions. We’re getting more reasons for tourists to come and stay, and that’s the key for being a great tourist destination. If people just come on day trips, you don’t get the hotel revenue. I think we’re building up the number of reasons to come to Long Beach and stay overnight or a weekend.
Carlos Torres de Navarra
Vice President, Strategic and Commercial Port Development, Carnival Cruise Line
Aside from the day that Carnival’s Long Beach Cruise Terminal opened for business in 2003 and ushered in cruising for the first time from the City of Long Beach, 2018 marks the next major growth spurt for the region. In February, North America’s busiest cruise terminal will be reintroduced after a multimillion-dollar expansion project which represents the largest investment in cruising in the State of California in the last decade.
The redesigned terminal will welcome the arrival of the largest cruise ship to be based in Southern California. When Carnival Splendor makes Long Beach home, Carnival will begin carrying more than 700,000 guests annually from Southern California, operating nearly 250 three- to 14-day cruises a year to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. In total, Carnival will generate nearly 1.4 million passenger movements a year in and out of Long Beach, along with thousands of crew members who stop in Long Beach for shopping and dining with every call. By occupying and redesigning the entire interior space within what is the world’s largest, geodesic dome, Carnival will dramatically enhance the guest experience – providing seamless operational flow for check-in and security processing. The port enhancement project also includes an expansion of portside “cold-ironing” capabilities to enable larger ships to plug into the local electric grid to reduce exhaust emissions while docked.
All of these investments will allow Carnival to deploy larger vessels from Long Beach in the years to come, which further enhances not only Carnival’s leadership position, but also the overall economic impact in the region. In addition, Carnival continues to make donations to local charities and non-profit organizations as part of its ongoing commitment to support the homeport communities where we operate.