Academic journal article Social Justice

The Local/global Context of the Los Angeles Hotel-Tourism Industry

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Local/global Context of the Los Angeles Hotel-Tourism Industry

Article excerpt

In the wake of the 1992 urban rebellion and subsequent natural disasters, the Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau unveiled a multimillion dollar ad campaign with a new public relations message, "Los Angeles - Together We're the Best." Throughout the L.A. area, billboards, flags, and advertisements all carry this latest version of civic boosterism. Unfortunately, this slogan masks the widening gap of social and economic inequality in L.A. between the haves and have-nots. There is a growing income disparity between the high-skilled, white-collar professionals, who work in high-rise office and entertainment complexes, and the low-wage, primarily Latino, immigrant workers that keep the service and sweatshop economy operating (Ong et al., 1989).

It is not coincidental that a widening gap of poverty in Los Angeles has occurred at the same time as the region became an international business center and a destination for leisure activities. The purpose of this article is to provide an analysis of one industry, the hotel-tourism industry, a fragile pillar in the construction of L.A.'s restructured economy. The tourism industry thrives on a manufactured image of the region that includes sunny beaches, Hollywood entertainment, and mega-amusement parks. However, the slick PR campaigns and the glamorized interpretations of social reality hide a dark underside of poverty and racism that will be explored below. The central questions addressed are: What forces fueled the growth and restructuring of the hotel-tourism industry, what were the local effects, and how have immigrant workers responded to the internationalization of the tourism industry?

A paradox in L.A.'s meteoric rise into a global center is that it also produced an equally alarming growth in poverty among low-wage workers. In the 1960s, a regional center of finance and other services was constructed by a growth coalition that included oil companies, banks, real estate developers, and the Los Angeles Times newspaper. This coalition was infused in the 1970s by a wave of Japanese and other foreign investment capital that transformed L.A. into a center of global capital (Davis, 1992). Besides the construction of office buildings, hotels and leisure entertainment were developed to attract international business and tourists. To staff the burgeoning tourism and service industry, large numbers of low-wage immigrant workers, predominantly from Mexico and Central America, have become the dominant work force replacing African Americans and ethnic whites. The new immigrant workers have not received the economic and social benefits commensurate with the labor they invested in L.A.'s transformation (Valle and Torres, 1994). For the City and County of Los Angeles, the growth of the tourist industry is an integral part of the region's transition from a heavy industrial and a defense economy into a light manufacturing, apparel, and service economy. Because federal and state funds have dried up, urban centers such as Los Angeles have been scrambling to adopt policies that will create public revenues. The development of the tourism industry is seen by local government officials as being able to generate needed public revenues through bed and sales taxes. The economic importance of the tourism industry cannot be ignored. Tourism in L.A. provides jobs and entertainment for the more than 22 million visitors each year (Los Angeles Times, 1995a).

In this article, I will put forward three propositions. First, the tourism industry played a prominent role in L.A.'s restructuring into an international tourist destination and business center. Second, local government officials actively supported the growth of hotels and tourism into an international industry. Third, as the L.A. tourism industry became internationalized and corporate decisionmaking moved overseas, problems of accountability to the local workers were exacerbated. Access by workers and other local community elements to the source of corporate power became more limited. …

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