Despite gloom and doom travel predictions in the news, California’s tourism industry has an incredible opportunity to boost its economy by continuing to invest in lucrative international markets.
Preliminary statistics for 2008 confirm that although international travel is expected to be down 4% due to the global recession, and some markets will struggle in 2009, it strategically makes sense to think of these markets over the long term, rather than panic and just focus on in-state or regional domestic marketing.

Why? Because international long-haul travelers tend to stay longer and spend more money in California. And, even though there is a global recession, some markets are less affected than others. China’s economy, for example, is growing, and their visitation to the Golden State grew 24 percent. Additionally, the strength of the euro has helped visitation boom from the United Kingdom (+4%), Germany (+21%) and France (+29%). Closer to home, although Mexican travel was down 9% due to economic challenges, Canadian travel grew approximately five percent, boosted by a more stable economy and a relatively strong dollar against ours.

As the Chair of the U.S. Travel Association, I see other states and destinations, either through uncontrollable general fund cuts or short-term thinking, cutting back seriously on international marketing and focusing closer to home. Because the California Travel & Tourism Commission (CTTC) years ago changed its funding structure to a more stable one, we have a unique opportunity to maintain our presence in these international markets, thus increasing our share of voice as other destinations decrease theirs.

We’re taking advantage of this trend by maintaining our significant increases in overseas marketing started two years ago – we also just opened new offices in top markets such as China, Mexico and South Korea. Although we remain strong in domestic marketing, most of our travelers (nearly 80%) are from in-state, so we know that high-value international markets represent our biggest growth opportunity. With recent improvements in U.S. entry, and efforts by the U.S. Travel Association to lure international visitors, we believe U.S. market share of international travelers will grow in the future. If we stay smart, and invest in the long-term, California stands to move ahead of the pack and get a bigger piece of the pie.

We urge government and travel industry officials to keep their eyes on the future of tourism in this state, and, if they’re lucky enough to be able to do so in this economy, do what they can to ensure that California destinations, hotels, attractions and transportation companies maintain their international presence.

If they can’t do it alone, they can still stay in the game by supporting CTTC’s marketing and PR efforts, which promote travel to the whole state. We provide discounted marketing and free PR opportunities that let us do what the industry cannot do for themselves. Together we can help keep our state and industry economy strong.