Tourism officials say power crisis dims summer prospects

By Seth Hettena Associated Press Writer
Monday May 28, 2001

SAN DIEGO – Joan Conrad wasn’t going to let blackouts stop her and 13 high school seniors in her charge from seeing California. 

“I was ready to bring a flashlight,” the Illinois resident said at Lindbergh Field as she rounded up teen-agers for the flight home after an eight-day tour. 

But, Conrad added, if the trip had come in summer she might have chosen a destination with a more stable power supply. 

“It did give me a second thought,” she said. 

Such sentiments have California tourism officials worrying about the impact on the $75.4 billion industry. 

“California’s energy crisis hangs over the state’s tourism industry like a dark cloud,” according to a report from the California Chamber of Commerce. 

“Our business is gravely threatened by the specter of rolling blackouts and unreliable energy supplies,” said Samuel Woodfin, who operates Woodfin Suite Hotels, a national chain with properties in seven California cities. “The effect on our state’s business environment will be devastating — starting this summer.” 

Hotels are already seeing a drop in business. 

A survey of 4,400 California hotels by Smith Travel Research indicated that occupancy rates dropped 2.7 percent in March, the latest month for which figures were available. The San Francisco area has seen the steepest decline, falling 11.2 percent during the first three months of this year. 

However Laurie Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, attributed the decline to the softening high-tech economy in Silicon Valley. It follows a banner year that she described as “kind of a 100-year flood in terms of tourism.” 

Of 164 small hotels and chains surveyed by the California Lodging Industry Association, 28 percent said they already have lost business due to the power crisis and concerns about blackouts, said Rick Lawrance, the organization’s president. 

Almost all hotels surveyed said their electricity costs had increased an average of 50 percent and now account for 10 percent of total operating costs. Many hotels have added fees ranging from $1 to $4 to nightly room rates to help cover those costs. 

Theme parks are also feeling the heat. 

Disneyland, Sea World and Universal Studios Hollywood — the state’s top three attractions with a combined 22.7 million visits last year — all face threats of power outages this summer, according to representatives of those parks and power officials. 

Like most hotels, they insist that safety procedures and backup generators will ensure the safety of visitors. The parks would likely get a warning from power providers before blackouts begin, and signs would go up alerting visitors about ride closures and other problems, tourism officials said. 

Disneyland, the state’s No. 1 attraction, draws its power from Anaheim’s municipal utility, which has a more stable supply than Southern California Edison, according to Chula Castano-Lenahan, a Disneyland spokeswoman. 

For the first time in five years, Disneyland will be hosting its Electrical Parade. But the illuminated nighttime extravaganza will draw its energy from rechargeable batteries. 

Meanwhile, lobbyists for Universal are trying to have the theme park added to state legislation that would allow it to draw electricity from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which doesn’t expect to be plagued by outages this summer. Edison is Universal’s current supplier. 

In exchange for immunity from blackouts, Paramount’s Great America amusement park in Santa Clara will voluntarily reduce power by up to 10 percent when asked by its utility, Silicon Valley Power. Under the plan, rides will remain open but the park will shut off decorative fountains and lighting along with some air conditioning. 

“We consider ourselves extremely fortunate,” said Timothy Chanaud, a park spokesman. “That peace of mind we can offer guests is really exceptional.”