Tourism hit hard by pandemic locally and statewide

Ben Irwin

County Economic Development Office gives update on tourism marketing efforts

TULARE COUNTY – Tourism has taken a back seat during the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the Tulare County Economic Development Office from finding ways to promote Tulare County’s hidden treasures.

Michael Washam, associate director of the Tulare County Economic Development Office, broke the harsh reality of the state of tourism in California. He said in 2019, California tourism surpassed $145 billion in travel spending, supporting 1.2 million jobs and driving over $12 billion in state and local tax revenue.

“For Tulare County, that breaks down to $540 million in annual travel spending supporting over 5,500 jobs here locally,” Washam said, “and $49.5 million in local and state tax revenue.”

COVID-19 has devastated the tourism economy both locally and statewide, Washam said, estimating that in 2020 total travel spending statewide will be down over 55% compared to 2019.

“That equates to erasing over a decade of growth to the industry,” Washam said. “It goes back to 2010 numbers, around $66 billion statewide. And it’s not expected to rebound to pre-coronavirus levels until 2024.”

Washam said the rural areas have fared a bit better due to more domestic travel and much of the local tourism related to outdoor recreation.

“Because we have outdoor recreation, I think we will rebound a little quicker than the state overall because of those factors,” Washam said. “Hopefully, if we can get these vaccines completely out, we will probably rebound maybe close to a year before the state overall.”

Washam said Tulare County’s greatest tourism marketing strength is through collaboration with local partners: Mighty 190—which got a website update with the help of the county Economic Development Office—highlights recreation opportunities along highway 190, Discover Sequoias, a tourism council that covers tourism for the entire county and the Museum Alliance of Tulare County.

A new addition to the tourism marketing efforts highlighted by Washam was running “Discover Tulare County” and “Discover The Sequoias” billboards on Highway 99—one of each in Traver and Tulare—with the hashtag #RecreateResponsibly to capture the holiday crowd from Thanksgiving to New Years Day.

“This is the first time we’ve really pushed that marketing in an effort to be able to draw attention to the activities that are available to people currently to be able to get outside and exercise,” Washam said.

Although most of their trade shows were canceled this year due to COVID-19, Washam said it created the opportunity to do the first virtual trade show in December, with attendees able to live chat and ask questions about amenities in Tulare County.

“It was a little awkward the first time doing something like that,” Washam said, “but we always have to keep looking forward and looking for new opportunities.”

Washam said the county Economic Development Office was able to create short virtual tours and highlights of local museums, some which have been hit hard by the prolonged pandemic, including the Tulare County Museum, the Springville Historical Museum and the Three Rivers Museum.

Included in the latest tourism marketing efforts was a social media campaign reminding people to wear a mask when they leave home, and to visit outdoor tourism locations responsibly with social distancing and other public health protocols.

“These were all COVID messaging that we wanted to get out,” Washam said, “but we also want to get out the message of activities and opportunities directly in Tulare County.”

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