(Photo Credit: Matthew Grant Anson)
California has long been seen as the vacation destination of the gods, boasting national parks galore and iconic pieces of Americana in equal amounts. And while it’s assumed that tourism must make up a sizable portion of the Golden State’s economy, precise and concrete numbers have been harder to come by. How badly was California’s tourism industry hit by the Great Recession, and how much has it recovered?
A new report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis says that while employment in the United States increased by 1.9 percent in the first quarter, it increased 2.3 percent in the travel and tourism fields – and California accounted for much of the gains. California’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent in May, and it happened on the backs of the hospitality and leisure industries, as they added the most jobs of any sector.
And it’s not just California’s big three urban areas – Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego – that are benefiting from the tourism; a Dean Runyan Associates report says that even the least populated areas of California rely heavily on the taxes generated from visitors to their regions. For example, Mariposa and Mono counties took in more than half of their total taxes through tourism.
So considering the fact that 2012 saw the generation of $2.5 billion in local taxes and $4.1 billion in state taxes, what can California do to help facilitate more tourism and travel in order to boost the economy? One answer is infrastructure. Out-of-state visitors should enter the state at modern airports and be able to get around with advanced public transportation. In-state road-trippers will suffer the roads if those same roads are decrepit and falling apart.
Tourism in California is good for all regions – not just the major cities. It’s one equalizer in a state defined by its unique and diverse regional economies. The soon-to-be-opened new international terminal at LAX brings 18 more gates to the airport, exactly half of which are designed to support newer, gigantic double-decker airplanes. This is precisely the type of forward thinking and prioritization our state needs in regard to its infrastructure. California’s infrastructure leaves something to be desired now, but if the state can figure out how to pay for the right investments, it has the potential to be great.