Tourism Industry Jobs Form Big Piece of California’s Economic Foundation

Terry MacRae

Vacations to California’s natural wonders, cultural riches and exciting city attractions fuel stable employment and the world’s fifth largest economy.

Regardless of where travelers go and what they do in California, vacations are more than memories—they also spur one of California’s strongest economic pillars. In fact, tourism drove $132 billion in travel-related spending in 2017, generating $11 billion in state and local tax revenues.

Running a cruises and events company wasn’t exactly the course I expected to take when I studied mechanical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After graduating and starting my career as an environmental engineer, I quickly rose through the ranks of Industrial Clean Air and later became vice president of sales for Ecolaire Systems Inc. I found myself regularly scouting venues for client and employee events, which is how I discovered and later purchased a small yacht charter company based in Berkeley, California.

Over the last four decades, Hornblower expanded to a 100-vessel, half-billion-dollar company, spanning over 30 ports from coast-to-coast. Today, Hornblower companies employ more than 2,500 people and we take great pride in knowing our business supports so many families.

Pillars of Economy

As you enjoy your next vacation, know you too are fueling many pillars of the state’s economy, which in turn supports jobs for 1.1 million California workers.

California’s tourism industry brings vibrancy to our economic health, vibrancy we see in the faces of the people who make this happy industry hum. It is these employees who help create amazing experiences and maintain California as a desirable travel destination. It is their energy and enthusiasm that melds with the natural beauty of California to create the vibrant experiences California is known to offer.

Whether it’s new Californians looking for employment, retirees seeking seasonal work, summer jobs for students or a second job that bolsters a family’s income, tourism jobs remain stable even in the midst of economic downturns. The service-oriented industry relies on employees—yes, real people—who have a stake in customer satisfaction, and their work cannot be shipped abroad or cut back by automation.

In the midst of the Great Recession, tourism’s employment held strong against other sectors, dipping just 5.6% compared to an overall employment loss of 8.6%. Coming out of the recession, tourism created more new jobs than any other industry—a trend that has reliably continued, with 30,000 new jobs created last year, a faster growth rate than state government, trade or manufacturing. (Source: California Employment Development Department)

Worker Shortage

Now, with the lowest unemployment rates since 1976 and a growing economy, California is seeing jobs growth slow, due in part to a shortage of workers.

The California Foundation for Commerce & Education is projecting a shortfall over the next generation of more than a million graduates of four-year colleges and hundreds of thousands of those with two-year degrees.

Graduates who enter the workforce need qualities that employers urgently seek: Solid communications skills, personal responsibility, and a strong work ethic. Tourism jobs help prepare California’s workforce with exactly these important skills.

Travel and tourism is California’s largest export. International visitors spend more than $25 billion in California a year. That is more than the value of California’s agriculture exports.

To help keep California a desirable location, we must work to provide clean and safe cites and infrastructure necessary for visitors. Not only is it necessary to provide education and training, but we must all commit to provide affordable housing and transportation alternatives for the amazing folks who work in this industry. We must take immediate action and create permanent solutions.

The world has many beautiful places, so we must ensure we are working to maintain the competitiveness of this important pillar of California’s economy.

Secret to Success

On your next vacation, share how much we all appreciate the dedicated employees who help create those fond vacation memories. Take a moment to share your gratitude. These welcoming, hard-working folks may well be the secret to your best vacation ever and the secret to the success of California’s largest export industry: tourism and the jobs we all need.

Terry MacRae, 2018 chair of the California Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, serves as commissioner on the Visit California Board of Directors and is chief executive officer, president and founder of Hornblower Cruises & Events.

The California Chamber of Commerce is the largest, broad-based business advocate to government in California, working at the state and federal levels to influence government actions affecting all California business. As a not-for-profit, we leverage our front-line knowledge of laws and regulations to provide affordable and easy-to-use compliance products and services.