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OC Meetings Make Comeback

The addition of two new four-diamond resorts in Anaheim has helped generate meetings and events bookings for the city, pushing business leads to pre-pandemic levels.

“The number of leads coming in from meeting planners is back at 2019 levels, with hotels performing especially well right now,” said Jay Burress, CEO and President of Visit Anaheim.

The recently opened Westin Anaheim Resort and the JW Marriott, Anaheim Resort added north of 90,000 square feet to the city’s meeting space inventory, which tops 1.5 million square feet.

The properties are the first four-diamond hotels for Anaheim not on Disneyland grounds, which has helped to bring in higher-end leisure and business travelers, Burress notes.

“Debuting two new AAA Four Diamond properties has business and leisure travelers reimagining how they see and experience Anaheim,” Burress said.

“Expanding Anaheim’s hotel portfolio with luxury properties like JW Marriott and The Westin creates an opportunity to attract a new wave of clientele to the destination.”

Four-Diamond Offerings 

The 466-room JW Marriott marked the first property of that brand type in OC when it opened a year ago.

It has 41,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space, the 17th most of local hotels included in this year’s Hotel Meeting Rooms list (see page 20).

The Westin Anaheim Resort opened in June as the first new build for the Westin brand in Southern California in 25 years.

The 618-room property was the largest to open in the state since the onset of the pandemic, and adds 47,542 feet of indoor and outdoor meetings and event space, putting it at No. 13 on the Business Journal list.

Both hotels have expansive rooftop bars, now a hotel amenity mainstay as travelers demand increased outdoor eating and gathering spaces.

Balboa Bay Resort

The business sector has taken the hardest hit within the meetings industry, with most corporations pausing travel amid coronavirus restrictions.

That pause is still largely in effect, Burress notes, as businesses keep an eye on the Delta variant and new increases in case figures.

“Some shows are seeing a 25% to 50% drop in attendance, and some might have their attendance figures changed forever because of the ease of Zooms and virtual meetings, Burress notes.

Conversely, there’s been a strong showing of demand from associations in the medical, life science, technology and sports sectors.

These industries helped buoy Balboa Bay Resort throughout the pandemic, with the 159-room property hosting meetings for firms like Edwards Lifesciences Corp. and Allergan.

“Those companies have been working with us throughout the pandemic to conduct smaller meetings here almost every other week,” said Balboa Bay Resort’s Director of Sales Kamia Kinchlow.

Balboa Bay Resort, which counts nearly 38,000 square feet of meeting space that frequently holds larger nonprofit galas and luncheons, has enjoyed a quicker than expected return for the meetings segment, Kinchlow notes.

“We didn’t anticipate going from almost no business to exceeding our pre-pandemic numbers,” Kinchlow said.  

Convention Center

The Anaheim Convention Center—the largest exhibition facility on the West Coast—lost nearly 350 events because of the pandemic, resulting in $2.6 billion in economic losses, according to Visit Anaheim.  

In May, the city-owned center held its first non-COVID-19-related event since February 2020, paving the way for future tourism events to take place in the city.

The center has booked its first convention slated for August: a medical device conference hosted by UBM.

The event typically brings 30,000 attendees to the city each year; after a pause in 2020, the 2021 event is expected to bring in about 17,000 guests.

The center has 52 events booked for the remainder of 2021, representing more than $221 million in local economic impact.

Hotel Occupancy 

The comeback for the meetings industry comes as area hotels see a return in occupancy, with levels nearing pre-pandemic heights.

“We’ve reached the highest occupancy levels in over 16 months in Anaheim, with weekends seeing upwards of 80% occupancy,” Burress said.

This is especially true for coastal hotels like the Balboa Bay Resort, with occupancy hitting an all-time high last month.

“We averaged about 91%,” said Kinchlow, with average daily rates increasing as a result.

“The travel industry is back in business.” 

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