The tourism economy in Visalia and Tulare County made great strides toward recovery in 2021, yet more work remains to fully restore the tourism economy in Visalia, Tulare County and across the state.
According to Visit California’s newly released report prepared by Dean Runyan Associates, detailing the economic impact of tourism across the state in 2021:
- Visitor spending in 2021 increased by 59.4% over 2020 to $406.5 million in Tulare County, better than the state average.
- Visitor-generated tax revenue in Tulare County increased to $12.9 million in 2021.
- Tourism jobs in Tulare County rose 17% to 5,350 in 2021.
- Tulare County visitor spending numbers remained just -9.9% short of the levels recorded in 2019, before the pandemic lockdown and subsequent waves of government restrictions.
“In spite of the pandemic, Visalia had a record-breaking year in 2021, reporting the highest hotel occupancy rate and ADR in nine years. Visitor spending is catching up as well, at just 10% below 2019 levels in Tulare County,” said Nellie Freeborn, executive director of Visit Visalia. “These positive results are due in no small part to the aggressive marketing efforts of the bureau which works to promote the area as a year-round family vacation destination. There is work still to be done, however. Tourism is an economic driver in our community that is helping to drive the local post-covid recovery,” added Freeborn.
Visit Visalia works to bring visitors to the destination and the nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The popularity of outdoor recreation and proximity to world-class national parks has helped in attracting tourists, particularly during the pandemic. Visit Visalia continues to promote the city as an ideal homebase for vacationing families with outstanding restaurants, family-friendly attractions and a variety of hotel options. Marketing efforts within California, to targeted states, and even to international travelers include the messaging that Visalia is open for business and visitors are welcome.
“The nearly $13 million in tax revenues generated by visitor spending help provide a stream of revenue to fund local services such as police, firefighters, roadways, libraries and more, improving the quality of life for residents as well as to enable us to continue to attract tourists and conventioneers to our geographically appealing city,” said John Oneto, Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau (VCVB) board chair. “The work done by the bureau is vital to local businesses, employees and residents.”
Statewide, visitor spending reached $100.2 billion in 2021, up 46% from 2020. Visitor-generated tax revenue for state and local governments also increased by a third to $9.8 billion in 2021. Tourism jobs, which were halved at the dawn of the pandemic in 2020, recovered slowly in 2021, increasing to 928,000.
California’s visitor spending levels in 2021 amounted to just 69% of the record $144.9 billion reported in 2019. Employment levels in California’s tourism industry remained at only about three-quarters of the 1.2 million workers recorded in 2019.
“The increases in 2021 overall show that Visit California’s marketing programs are working,” said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, the state’s tourism marketing organization. “After a devastating 2020, visitor spending is on the stairway to recovery, but we still have a long way to go,” Beteta said. “Cities continue to suffer without the critical international and group business segments.”
California’s meeting market was unable to operate for most of 2020 and into 2021 and has been slow to return. Spending by international visitors, which stood at nearly $28 billion in 2019 and was California’s largest export, plummeted with travel restrictions and amounted to just $5.4 billion in 2021.
Aided by marketing stimulus funds approved by the Legislature in mid-2021, Visit California has launched initiatives to promote leisure and business travel across the state, including a new domestic brand campaign with “Am I Dreaming?” that premiered during the Super Bowl pregame show. The organization has also reestablished marketing programs in priority international markets to tap into pent-up demand and inspire travelers to choose California for their first long-haul vacations.
Economic projections, prepared by Tourism Economics and released by Visit California earlier this year, showed travel-related spending will reach $144.6 billion in 2023, nearly the same as 2019. If achieved, the tourism economy will have returned to 2019 levels a year sooner than projected a year ago. Spending now is projected to reach $155.9 billion in 2024.
The release of the economic impact report annually coincides with the beginning of California Tourism Month in May, which the Legislature designated in 2016.