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JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter After a nationwide drop in amusement-park attendance in 1998, Valley parks are positioned for an improved year, thanks in part to dry weather, industry experts say. “Optimism reigns supreme,” said Tim O’Brien, editor of trade magazine Amusement Business. “American parks across the board are poised for an excellent year. They’ve put money into new rides and coasters and there’s some good added attractions.” According to Amusement Business, attendance at Universal Studios Hollywood dropped 5 percent in 1998 to 5.1 million visitors. Magic Mountain saw a 9 percent drop to 3.1 million. O’Brien said California parks were hit harder than others because of El Ni & #324;o and the downturn in the Asian economy. That’s expected to change this year, though the Asian slump will still have a moderate effect on L.A. and Valley tourism. Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said he expects parks will see modest growth this year based on small increases in airline traffic and hotel occupancy rates. Valley hotel rates continued to increase in January, up 1.9 percent over January 1998 to an average cost of $110.04 a night, according to PKF Consulting, which tracks the hotel industry. Valley hotel occupancy rates dropped 8 percent in January 1999 to 64 percent, down from 69 percent in January 1998. Attractions such as the J. Paul Getty Museum and Van Gogh exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art have attracted national attention and continue to bring tourists to the area, Kyser said. At theme parks, spring attendance usually sets the pace for the coming year, O’Brien said. With rain at half its normal level in Southern California, parks stand to benefit with bigger crowds compared to last year. Kyser said most Southern California parks are in a transition period now, with few new attractions under construction. At Magic Mountain, new management has focused on thinning down lines, improving the children’s area and gearing more events to families, O’Brien said.

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