SAN FRANCISCO -- Palm Springs and its neighboring desert resorts are riding high after being tagged as some of the hippest and hottest resorts in the nation by consumer travel magazines and East Coast-based media outlets during the last several years.

The media spotlight -- which led to a surge in interest by hotel developers and investors -- brought Palm Springs banner years in 1999 and 2000, with 3 million visitors each year, according to Gary Sherwin, vice president of the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority.

"When the East Coast press declared us 'hip,' that seemed to put us on the map again," Sherwin said.

Of course, Palm Springs was 'hip' years ago, as the desert playground for Hollywood stars such as Errol Flynn and Greta Garbo in the 1920s.

But today, with a boom in the restoration of classic 1950s architecture and its discovery by young stars such as Britney Spears, there is a new luster to the image of the area.

Final visitor tallies are not in for 2001, but tourism industry officials here expect them to show a falloff due to Sept. 11 and a slowing economy.

However, Palm Springs and its neighbor resorts -- the visitors authority also includes the towns of Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Cathedral City, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage -- should weather the general tourism downturn better than the state's urban areas, thanks to the resorts' heavy dependence on the drive-in market.

Some 53% of visitors to the area drive from Southern California; another 15% to 20% come from the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I think we'll end 2001 only down 7% in hotel occupancy," Sherwin said.

The biggest loss for Palm Springs and the other resorts was cancellations in fall convention and meetings business, but there was a strong resurgence in those bookings for the late winter and early spring of this year, Sherwin said.

Known for their 100 golf courses (34% of area visitors come for golf) and 350 days of sunshine, the desert resorts recently have begun promoting something both new and old -- spas.

"We want to become known as the place where you come to rejuvenate, reinvigorate yourself and totally relax," Sherwin said. "We want to send people home feeling better than when they came."

Several boutique hotels that have sprung up in the last two years also have been drawing visitors, he noted. In recognition of the popularity of small hotels, the authority issued a 16-page guide to 200 small properties.

It is available by writing to the authority at 69-930 Highway 111, Suite 2, Department SD, Rancho Mirage, Calif. 92270, or by calling (800) 41-RELAX.

The authority's Web site is at

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