Summer is traditionally the most popular time for travel in California and with vaccination counts climbing and restrictions being lifted, 2021’s summer travel season is well underway. The state’s official re-opening June 15 kicked California’s economic recovery into high gear with restaurants, hotels and attractions able to operate without imposed limits.
From restaurants to resorts and theme parks to wineries, California’s tourism industry is beginning to witness a much-needed increase in activity and some pent-up demand for travel across the state.
Statewide, hotels saw occupancy exceed 70% in June for the first time since March 2020. With virtually no restrictions remaining, California’s most iconic destinations and attractions are coming back to life and the hope of recovery is on the horizon.
Recent Visit California research shows over 80% of Americans are ready to travel again—a nearly 30% increase since Jan. 1—and California destinations are ready to welcome them. This is promising news for an industry that was devastated by the pandemic.
The travel and hospitality sector was the hardest hit, with 55% of travel-related spending evaporating overnight. More than one-third of jobs lost (518,000) in California were in the travel and hospitality sector.
California lost 25% of market share in 2020, and there is much work to do to recapture that share. Persuading travelers to visit will not be easy in a climate where Americans don’t consider California as “open for business” as competing destinations. While 74% of consumers see Florida as being ready to welcome tourists, only 65% feel the same about California, as of the end of June.
A healthy travel economy is crucial to bringing hospitality jobs back, getting the unemployed back to work and supporting businesses as they work toward full operation—and all of that will take time. Domestic travel is projected to take four years to return to 2019 levels, and the full recovery in international and business travel is projected to lag even longer.
State leadership recognized the importance of Visit California’s destination marketing work and the positive economic impact it can generate by allocating a one-time $95 million stimulus investment in the recently adopted budget to jumpstart travel business during this crucial time and effectively shorten the state’s forecasted recovery timeline. The funding represents the largest stimulus of its kind in the country as California looks to compete with destinations across the nation.
Visit California will use funds to extend in-state marketing efforts, including the “Calling All Californians” initiative, and expand reach nationwide with four new campaigns aimed at inspiring visitors to return to the Golden State.
Californians keeping their travel close to home will be key to the state’s recovery, as it was equally critical following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In terms of economic havoc, this pandemic is 10 times worse than 9/11—but similar to then, Californians can support our own economic recovery.
While tourism continues to weather this crisis, and “normal” remains elusive for the foreseeable future, the creativity and resilient spirit of the hospitality industry has resulted in new experiences and fresh ways to experience the state, especially in California’s iconic world-class cities.
More than 23 new hotels opened in 2020 and another 22 are in the pipeline this year, all of California’s major theme parks opened new attractions during the pandemic—and there are countless more examples of new experiences waiting to be explored.
Smart, safe and responsible travel is the new normal, and destination stewards are working to educate travelers how to keep their communities in mind when visiting, remain vigilant about healthy practices and understand how to travel with respect for others and the environment.
The pandemic has changed the world and the tourism industry has been drastically altered, but the joy of travel has reemerged stronger than ever and California is ready to roll out the red carpet for visitors.
Caroline Beteta is president and CEO of Visit California.