California tourism recovery underway, but will take years to fully rebound

In roughly a year, the pandemic has “erased a decade of growth in California,” a top state tourism executive told reporters Tuesday.

So how long will it take to recover?

“Our latest forecast, compiled in partnership with Tourism Economics, bears out a pandemic recovery that will take us about four years, in fact,” said Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta, who oversees the nonprofit organization tasked with driving domestic and international visitation to the state.

Among the domestic forecasts for visitor spending, California this year is positioned to reach 76% of 2019 levels, according to Beteta. In 2022, domestic visitor spending is expected to hit 94% of 2019 levels, she said, while international travel isn’t forecast to rebound significantly until 2023.

“Along with the rest of the state of California, Visit Napa Valley looks forward to a full and safe reopening in time for the busy summer season,” said Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO. “Visit Napa Valley encourages travelers to book a midweek stay to take advantage of special offers and experience the valley like a local.”

During Tuesday’s annual meeting to discuss its economic outlook, Beteta announced the launch of Visit California’s new campaign, “Dreaming On In California,” which she said looks ahead to brighter days and opportunities to make up for the celebrations and moments lost last year.

“The focus on Californians taking trips and making up for the missed milestone celebrations — weddings, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries — means we can attract some of the 39 million residents to consider a trip here,” said Tim Zahner, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau.

Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, said she’s confident about a robust summer season in the region.

“Travelers from Northern California and the western U.S., as well as some of our key flight markets, are already booking trips to the area,” Vecchio said. “We know pent-up desire to travel is real and we’re thrilled Sonoma County is one of the first destinations people feel safe returning.”

Beteta said Californians can help fuel their state’s recovery by vacationing in-state.

“This is about choosing California and choosing your fellow Californians first as a modern-day act of patriotism and helping get the state back on track, generating billions in tax revenue, and putting our friends and family back to work when they're ready,” Beteta said.

Read more from the North Bay’s tourism leaders and Visit California in Monday’s print edition of the North Bay Business Journal.

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