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Regional Interests

Hard-Hit California Tourism Industry Wants You to Travel Again

California tourism leaders are urging residents to spend their pent-up travel dollars exploring their home state, as coronavirus case numbers stay low and the industry reels from a 55% decline in revenue.

California, which has been one of the most restrictive states in terms of limiting activity during the pandemic, has the lowest infection rate in the country. On Tuesday, Los Angeles and San Francisco received permission to reopen bars, restaurants, museums and businesses more broadly.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces a recall election due in part to his handling of the pandemic, says the state is on track to fully reopen its economy in mid-June.

As vaccination numbers rise, more people are booking trips to favorite sites in the wine country and the Santa Barbara coast. Last week, Disneyland reopened after an unprecedented 13-month closure.

Tourism revenue in the state plummeted from $145 billion in 2019 to $65 billion last year. The figure is not expected to top pre-pandemic levels until 2024 as international travelers stay away for now, said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, the nonprofit that markets the state.

The travel and tourism industry has lost half of an estimated 1.2 million jobs. Travel spending is expected to near $98 billion this year and $126 billion in 2022, topping $151 billion in 2024.

Elected officials and travel executives appeared at San Francisco’s convention center Tuesday to promote in-state travel. Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel, said San Francisco and other gateway cities that rely heavily on international tourism were especially hard hit. Spending from international visitors dropped 84% to $829 million last year, and spending on meetings and conventions fell 85% to $275 million.

During the pandemic, the Moscone Convention Center served as shelter for homeless residents, the city’s emergency operations hub, and a mass vaccination site.

“Now it’s time to get this building open for its core function of hosting meetings and large scale events to really support the heart of this city, and you’ll see this happening this fall,” D’Alessandro said.

Beteta said the state lost $12 billion from June 2020 through February as residents left to vacation out of state, including $1 billion that went to Mexico.

—Janie Har, Associated Press

Copyright 2021 KQED