The opening of the new Cars Land at Disney California Adventure last summer can claim some of the credit. The 12-acre attraction, part of Disney's $1 billion expansion of California Adventure, helped put the struggling theme park back on the map, said Elaine Cali of the Anaheim Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau.
In 2009, the tourism industry saw a huge downturn. Thousands of people in Orange County alone lost jobs in the hospitality industry. In 2012, local tourism experts saw consumer spending go up by about 10-percent compared to 2011.
"Spending was about $8 billion - that's billion with a 'B,'" Cali said.
In 2012, 43 million people visited Orange County, up a few million since 2009, from first-time visitors to regulars at Disneyland Resort.
John Wayne Airport is also seeing more passengers, up about 2.5 percent over 2011. Airport officials say the AirTran and Interjet - two new services offering daily flights from Orange County to Mexico - have helped attract more travelers.
"About half of our increase in passengers, maybe a little less, is associated with the Mexico service," said Courtney Wiercioch, a John Wayne Airport spokeswoman.
Officials see a brighter 2013. Some forecasts see an extra 4-to-5 percent growth in tourism.
Helping that boost is a 100,000-square-foot grand plaza about to open at the Anaheim Convention Center. The Honda Center will also add a 250-seat restaurant this year.