Visit Visalia sees boom in tourism economy

Visit Visalia announces their tourism economy is booming after 2020 numbers, but still lagging behind the record numbers in 2019

VISALIA – Following the pandemic, Visalia and Tulare County have made great efforts in their marketing to recover from the steep decline in tourism. The economic impact tourism report shows their hard work has paid off by making tremendous improvements from 2020 and not far behind 2019. 

“In spite of the pandemic, Visalia had a record-breaking year in 2021, reporting the highest hotel occupancy rate and ADR [average daily rate] in nine years,” Nellie Freeborn, executive director of Visit Visalia said. “Visitor spending is catching up as well, at just 10% below 2019 levels in Tulare County.”

In a report released by Visit California on the economic impact of travel in California, visitor spending in Tulare County has increased by 59.4% since 2020. Currently the visitor spending numbers are 9.9% short of the levels recorded in 2019, which was a record year for the tourism industry according to Freeborn. Tourism jobs have seen a 17% increase from 2020 and are only 3.1% behind where they were in 2019. The visitor generated tax revenue in Tulare County has increased to $12.9 million, from $8.8 million in 2020 and $11.9 million in 2019.

Freeborn said during the pandemic, California tourism was hit hard because of the restrictions and as a result lost business to other states with destinations. She said the state is on the right track, but not quite where they were in 2019, “It’s great to see a lot of the marketing initiatives that the state tourism office is putting into place, both for tourism and for meetings and conventions to help mitigate some of that leakage and get the business back into California.”

As of March 2022, Visalia proper has already seen an 8.4% increase from last year in their occupancy rate – the ratio of rented spaces to available space – according to Freeborn. The ADR in Visalia proper has also seen an increase of 37.7%. Freeborn said Visalia outperformed Fresno the entirety of last year on both ADR and occupancy rates. 

Visit Visalia works to bring visitors to the destination and the nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The popularity of outdoor recreation and proximity to world-class national parks has helped attract tourists, particularly during the pandemic. Visit Visalia continues to promote the city as an ideal homebase for vacationing families with outstanding restaurants, family-friendly attractions and a variety of hotel options. Marketing efforts within California target different states and even international travelers with the messaging that Visalia is open for business and visitors are welcome. Freeborn said last year Visit Visalia initiated a gas card campaign promotion to help draw people to the area and it worked.  

“The nearly $13 million in tax revenues generated by visitor spending help provide a stream of revenue to fund local services such as police, firefighters, roadways, libraries and more, improving the quality of life for residents as well as to enable us to continue to attract tourists and conventioneers to our geographically appealing city,” John Oneto, Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau (VCVB) board chair said. “The work done by the bureau is vital to local businesses, employees and residents.”

California’s statewide visitor spending reached $100.2 billion in 2021, up 46%  from 2020. The visitor spending levels amounted to just 69% of the record $144.9 billion reported in 2019. Pre-pandemic, there were 1.2 million tourism workers recorded in 2019. That number was cut in half during the pandemic and is slowly recovering, remaining at 928,000,  about three-quarters of 2019. Visitor generated tax revenue for state and local governments also increased by a third in 2021. 

“The increases in 2021 overall show that Visit California’s marketing programs are working,” Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, the state’s tourism marketing organization said. “After a devastating 2020, visitor spending is on the stairway to recovery, but we still have a long way to go. Cities continue to suffer without the critical international and group business segments.”

California’s meeting market has been slow to return as it was unable to operate for most of 2020 and into 2021. Spending by international visitors, which stood at nearly $28 billion in 2019 and was California’s largest export, plummeted with travel restrictions and amounted to just $5.4 billion in 2021. Aided by marketing stimulus funds approved by the Legislature in mid-2021, Visit California has launched initiatives to promote leisure and business travel across the state. One of these initiatives included a new domestic brand campaign with “Am I Dreaming?” that premiered during the Super Bowl pregame show. The organization has also reestablished marketing programs in priority international markets to tap into pent-up demand and inspire travelers to choose California for their first long-haul vacations.

Economic projections, prepared by Tourism Economics and released by Visit California earlier this year, showed travel-related spending will reach $144.6 billion in 2023, nearly the same as 2019. If achieved, the tourism economy will have returned to 2019 levels a year sooner than projected a year ago. Spending now is projected to reach $155.9 billion in 2024.

The release of the economic impact report annually coincides with the beginning of California Tourism Month in May, which the Legislature designated in 2016.

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