Reality Tv Draws Tourists To New Attractions

July 26, 2009|By Hugo Martin | Hugo Martin,Tribune Newspapers

LOS ANGELES -- Move over, Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The hot new Southern California tourist attractions are the restaurants, boutiques and tattoo parlors where some of reality television's most popular shows are filmed.

Tourists from as far away as Germany fly in to visit the West Hollywood tattoo shop featured in the Learning Channel's LA Ink. Fans of the E! hit Keeping Up With the Kardashians stream into the Calabasas clothing stores run by the show's stars. And sightseers and diners alike jam the pricey West Hollywood eatery frequented by personalities on MTV's The Hills.

For decades, visitors have jumped on tour buses to see Los Angeles' conventional attractions, including the former homes of Judy Garland and Madonna and the concrete footprints of Marilyn Monroe in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. But the rise of reality television has created new must-see locations.

Among the more popular places is High Voltage Tattoo in West Hollywood, where the weekly show LA Ink is filmed with real tattoo artists and real customers.

On a recent afternoon, Jade Davidson and Bryce Elliot, 19-year-old college buddies from British Columbia, watched an artist use a buzzing tattoo machine to create a flowery design on a woman's back as a camera recorded it all.

Davidson and Elliot had driven all the way from Canada to get a permanent souvenir from the artists they see on the show every Thursday night. And they couldn't wait to go under the needle.

"We wanted to get tattoos, and we like the show, so here we are," Davidson said.

What sets such tourist attractions apart from the more traditional spots is that the worldwide appeal of reality TV draws hordes of visitors - a big plus, particularly during today's tough economic climate.

Los Angeles County's tourism industry can use all the help it can get. The county's hotel occupancy rate for the first four months of 2009 was down 14 percent from the same period last year, according to a report for LA Inc., the city's convention and visitors bureau.

Reality show directors say they obscure home addresses and street names on television to discourage stalkers. But restaurants and shops frequented by the reality show characters are clearly identified for fans to visit.

The manager of High Voltage Tattoo estimates that 90 percent of its customers are fans of the TV show.

At Katsuya Hollywood, a pricey restaurant and bar on Hollywood Boulevard where scenes for The Hills were filmed, up to 40 percent of the weekend customers are curious tourists, according to a spokesman. Visitors to the eatery may get a glimpse of Speidi, the nickname for Spencer and Heidi Pratt, the show's newly married stars.

"It definitely helps our business to have the built-in revenue generated by tourists," said Clint Clausen, senior vice president of operations for Katsuya Hollywood.

Several tour-bus companies also have added reality show hot spots to the conventional sightseeing routes.

"Basically, if it comes up in the tabloids, we show it," said J.C. Spender, a tour operator for Hollywoodland Tours, whose drivers point out High Voltage Tattoo and Katsuya on tours. "We keep up with the times."

But, perhaps because of the abysmal economic conditions, the fans who stop at the new tourist attractions have been tight with their spending, buying only inexpensive souvenirs. At Dash and Smooch, the Calabasas boutiques featured in Keeping Up With the Kardashians, tourists routinely stop by to get a glimpse at the stars of the show, Kris Kardashian and her daughters, Khloe, Kourtney and Kim. The family members run the boutiques on and off the air. But tourists usually buy T-shirts, while regular customers tend to buy the big-ticket items, such as dresses or pants, said Sheiva Ghasemzadeh, a cashier at Smooch.

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