SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California tourism is slowly recovering, but visitor spending is still lagging pre-pandemic records and most travel-related jobs cut during COVID-19 have yet to return, according to a report from Visit California.
Few industries were hit harder than travel and hospitality when the pandemic began in March 2020. Concerts and festivals were canceled. Hotels and shops closed and parks closed to visitors.
The state’s tourism marketing organization found that the industry still faces huge hurdles on the road to recovery, especially in major ‘gateway’ cities that still suffer from limited international travel. and a lack of business meetings and conventions.
According to the report prepared by Dean Runyan Associates and released Friday.
“Strong demand for overnight accommodations” and rising property prices led to gains in visitor spending last year, the report said. And while tourism employment is picking up, “the rate of recovery is much reduced,” according to the report.
The travel industry as a whole also added around 56,000 jobs in 2021 for a total of around 927,000, an increase of around 6% from the previous year. Most of these additional jobs were in leisure and hospitality-related fields, while the transportation industry lost jobs.
Tax revenue generated from visitors for states and local governments also increased by a third, to $9.8 billion in 2021, according to the report. That’s down from the peak of 2019, when tourism brought in more than $20 billion to state and local governments through tax revenue.
One area that has yet to see signs of growth is international visitor spending. Historically, international spending has constituted 18% to 22% of total travel spending in the state. But 2021 spending remained flat at 6%, the report said, as travel restrictions and COVID-19 variants limited outbound tourism.
According to the report, urban destinations that house the majority of the state’s hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions have been particularly slow to recover.
San Francisco County, for example, saw $6.1 billion in visitor spending in 2021, up from $14.2 billion in 2019. Visitors spent an estimated $19.6 billion in Los County. Angeles last year, about 60% of the record $32.7 billion reached in 2019.
Sacramento County saw about $3 billion in visitor spending in 2021, a 64% increase from 2020, but still about two-thirds of visitor spending in 2019.
“After a devastating 2020, visitor spending is on the road to recovery, but we still have a long way to go,” Visit California President and CEO Caroline Beteta said in a statement. “Cities continue to suffer without critical international and group business segments.”
Economic projections prepared by Tourism Economics and released by Visit California in February project that travel spending will reach $144.6 billion in 2023, roughly matching pre-pandemic levels.