California travel industry edges closer to a full recovery

California’s travel industry is gaining on a record-setting 2019, according to a new report from Visit California, projected this year to surpass a pre-pandemic milestone as the industry heads toward a full recovery.

The nonprofit organization, which promotes and tracks tourism in California, said travel-related spending in the Golden State grew to $134.4 billion in 2022. That’s a 31.7% increase from the previous year but down 7.2% from the $144.9 billion peak seen in 2019.

The report also breaks out 2022 travel-related spending in Sonoma, Solano, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.

County 2022 2019
Sonoma $2.3 billion $2.24 billion
Solano $789.1 million $823.5 million
Marin $852.2 million $838.3 million
Napa $1.7 billion $1.86 billion
Mendocino $468.9 million $484.0 million
Lake $175.8 million $180.7 million
North Bay total $6.3 billion $6.4 billion
North Bay travel-related spending (Source: Visit California)

Employment has also made significant gains. California’s travel industry added 157,000 jobs last year, pushing the total employment base to 1.1 million jobs. That was up 16.8% from 2021 but down 7.3% from 2019.

State and local tax revenue from travel has also gained traction. It increased 21.6% to $11.9 billion in 2022, according to Visit California. That fell 3% short of the revenue seen in 2019.

Visit California President and CEO Caroline Beteta said the industry is on a firm upward trajectory.

“California tourism in 2022 has definitely bounced back from the human and economic toll of the pandemic,” she said. “We’re poised to set new records for visitor spending, employment and tax generation this year.”

Projections from Tourism Economics show the state is on track this year to surpass the record $144.9 billion in visitor spending achieved in 2019, a year sooner than originally estimated.

Visit California numbers show California accounted for 11.6% of the nation’s total travel spending in 2022.

Spending on hotels, Airbnb and other lodging led the way with $31.7 billion in spending, followed by food service ($29.9 billion), local transportation and gasoline ($17.6 billion), retail sales ($15.7 billion), arts, entertainment and recreation ($14.4 billion), visitor air transportation ($6 billion) and food stores ($4.6 billion).

Accommodations and food service accounted for the most travel-related jobs at 627,190, followed by arts, entertainment and recreation (264,698), retail (86,057), other travel (50,205), ground transportation (38,777) and visitor air travel (23,428).

In a companion consumer sentiment report, Visit California lists beaches, hiking trails, malls, mountains and theme parks among the state’s top attractions.

Beatrice Hsu, president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners — noted that Los Angeles International Airport is the “No. 1 origin and destination airport in the world.”

“We have been investing billions of dollars to build the airport of the future here at LAX with the latest infrastructure, transportation and technology to make the passenger journey more seamless,” Hsu said at a recent California Tourism Month event.

Los Angeles World Airports CEO Justin Erbacci said 66 million travelers passed through LAX last year, adding that 70 million are expected for 2023.

“We’re seeing an increase in the amount of travelers, especially the international area where the increase is much more profound,” he said. “We hope as geopolitical issues get resolved we can have more flights from China and Asia that will get even more passengers here.”

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