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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

A Groundbreaking 2023 For Anaheim Expansion

Disneyland parent to mark 100 years

The city of Anaheim has $13 billion worth of theme park, hotel and other commercial development geared toward tourists queued up for the next five years or so.

It’s more than needed to handle a growing base of visitors, according to Visit Anaheim, the city’s destination marketing organization, which represents the area’s 80 hotels, convention center, base of restaurants and overall tourism industry.

By the end of 2022, Anaheim’s tourism figures were topping 2019 levels as the number of visitors reached 25.5 million—a 13% increase from two years ago. In addition, 70 conventions ran throughout last year, which brought in a $1.3 billion economic impact to the city, according to data from Visit Anaheim.

Even more visitors are expected this year, with a series of projects in the works from big-name Anaheim institutions.

The Honda Center this year will be celebrating its 30th anniversary, and the homeplace of the Anaheim Ducks is in line for upgrades as part of the 100-acre OCVibe mixed-use center, which will break ground in 2023 after receiving final approvals last September (see story, page 8).

This year is also The Walt Disney Co.’s 100th anniversary, with numerous events planned at the Disneyland Resort.

To add buzz to these events, and to highlight the area’s growing base of four-diamond hotels, Visit Anaheim will be introducing a new luxury committee, officials said.

“We’re making sure we’re a player in that marketplace as well,” Chief Executive Jay Burress said at the organization’s annual meeting in mid-December. Burress, along with fellow hospitality leaders, met at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa to discuss what 2023 has in store for the region.

Disney Growth Engine

Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock had first believed it would take two-plus years to reopen the Walt Disney’s Anaheim parks, after the onset of the pandemic. However, now he’s looking forward to reaching “record-breaking territory” in 2023.

“People will have more reasons to visit and to stay longer,” Potrock said of the company’s anniversary events that will begin on Jan. 27.

Another record was met by The Walt Disney Co. last year: with some 34,000 area employees it retook the title of OC’s largest employer. The company’s worker base represents about 2% of the county’s total jobs.

With expansions, renovations and multiple projects in the works across the resort—from the reopening of ToonTown to the rebranding of the upcoming Pixar Place Hotel—Potrock reiterated the push to advertise the parks as a multiday experience.

“We’re throwing the entire kitchen sink at this!”

The Disney executive also shared more details regarding the entertainment coming to the parks.

In reference to the DisneylandForward theme park expansion project, Potrock anticipates the creation of new jobs for the local community, and building new experiences which will bring in even more traffic to the city.

It prompts the entertainment company to “rethink how we use the assets and opportunities of the resort,” while also boosting the “surrounding resort appeal,” he added.

Potrock also noted there would be no negotiating with the city for additional square footage and that the program would have no public funding.

“We want to be an engine of growth” for both the economy and the community, he said.

International Visitors Lag

The state’s marketing firm, Visit California, anticipates the last travel sector to return to pre-pandemic levels will be international travelers. That segment is expected to recover by 2025, said Ryan Becker, vice president of communications, at the meeting.

Compared to two years ago, the international sector was at 58% of pre-pandemic spending in 2022.

“We won’t be fully recovered until all segments are back,” Becker said.

Total California spending was $137.8 billion in 2022 which was 95% of 2019 figures, according to Tourism Economics research. The current forecast is $155.6 billion for 2023 which will surpass the total from 2019.

Main investments from the organization will be restoring group travel through one of five marketing campaigns as well as reentering 13 chosen international markets by June 2023.

John Wayne Newcomer

Charlene Reynolds was named the newest director of John Wayne Airport (SNA) in May, after a 20-plus-year career working for the city of Phoenix.

Reynolds was considering retiring a year ago but had then been recruited to work for the Houston airport prior to being invited to John Wayne.

“My goal was to end my career as an airport director,” Reynolds said at last month’s Visit Anaheim annual meeting. She also noted that her previous roles had helped her “understand selling the city as a destination.”

John Wayne is “the envy of other airport directors as well as beloved by the community and easy to get in and out of,” Reynolds said of taking over.

Her goals for the airport include investing more into its facilities, while also creating a more “guest-centered” environment.

Potential upgrades include replacing the baggage system, electrifying the airline fleet, and investing in vertical take-offs and landing.

Local Vibe

Reynolds also wants to bring an “Orange County sense of place” to the airport by including more OC businesses and vendors in the facility. Over the next year and a half, about 80% of concession programs are planned for replacement.

The airport is “the beginning and end for many of our visitors,” said Reynolds, who described the airport as a community asset.

Since last March, the airport has seen record travel figures, according to Reynolds. John Wayne topped 1 million visitors in May of last year, a figure not seen since the onset of the pandemic.

—Emily Santiago-Molina

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