Reason for Optimism as California Tourism Slowly Recovers Post Pandemic

Written by William Hale

The coronavirus pandemic impacted no industry more than tourism, where recovery has been slow, despite increasing incrementally since the lifting of many COVID restrictions. Tourism is historically crucial to the California economy, with record tourism rates in 2019 bringing in $20 billion to state and local governments via tax revenue. 

According to a new report from Visit California, people from out of state spent $145 billion that year, but once the pandemic hit in 2020 visitor spending reached a low point of only $68 billion, recent estimates have that number back up to $100 billion for 2021.  

The devastating loss of revenue that impacted the travel industry in 2020 demonstrates the negative outcome of various COVID policies such as travel restrictions and lockdowns. Of course, ensuring public health is of utmost importance, but varying analysis on the efficacy of COVID policies like lockdowns — along with concerns of diminishing individual liberties — seriously complicates the Democrat consensus on COVID strategy. 

There is reason for optimism going forward, however, as projections from Visit California and Tourism Economics suggest that 2023 and 2024 might reach, or even exceed pre-pandemic levels of tourism. 

Visit California president and CEO Caroline Beteta said in a statement that “After a devastating 2020, visitor spending is on the stairway to recovery, but we still have a long way to go.”

The report also detailed San Diego’s performance throughout the pandemic, with the general trend running parallel to the state as a whole. $13.7 billion was spent on travel in 2019, followed by a drastic decline to $5.8 billion in 2020 and an increase to $9.4 billion in 2021. As long as San Diego politicians reduce the government’s role in controlling tourism with COVID policy, those numbers should keep increasing in 2022 and beyond. 

Photo Cred: Anne Wernikoff/ CalMatters