Article City Forum by Caroline Beteta

Tourism Powers Economic Growth in Local Communities

Caroline Beteta is president and CEO of Visit California, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop and maintain marketing programs, in partnership with the state’s travel industry, that inspire travel to California. She can be reached at

Tourism continues to be one of California’s most vital engines for economic growth. A decade of increasing visitor spending has helped transform many California cities and enhance life for both visitors and residents.

Throughout the Golden State, tourism employs more than 1 million residents and pumps billions of tax dollars into local government coffers. Visitor spending generated $11.8 billion in tax revenue statewide in 2018 — and $6 billion went directly into local treasuries.

Tourism is among the top three sources of funding for many California cities. In 2018, transient occupancy tax collected by hotels generated $2.7 billion for local government budgets statewide. Santa Monica collected $60.6 million in transient occupancy taxes, equal to nearly 12 percent of the city’s operating budget. In Mariposa County, tourism-generated taxes comprised more than half of the county’s budget and employed over half the workforce.

California cities are exploring new ways to increase their appeal to tourists. Here are a few ways local governments are using tourism to spur economic development and improve the lives of their residents.

Sacramento’s New Downtown Beat

With a new sports arena, growth in farm-to-fork restaurants and craft beer, and a vibrant public art scene, Sacramento is attracting visitors like never before. In 2015, the city partnered with developers and the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise to build the Downtown Commons and transform the heart of the city into a premier destination. Just blocks from the state Capitol, this sprawling plaza features hundreds of events year-round and a variety of retail, restaurant, nightlife, and lodging establishments.

Sacramento’s investment is paying off for the region. In 2018, visitors spent $4.1 billion in Sacramento County, employing 31,300 people and generating $303 million in tax revenue.

Monterey Promotes Sustainable Tourism

Monterey County is preserving its natural beauty, from beaches to vista views, for generations of visitors and residents through its Sustainable Moments program. Managed by the convention and visitor’s bureau, elected officials, and other stakeholders, Sustainable Moments provides visitors with practices to help them be environmentally friendly while traveling. Tips range from “pack in, pack out” and “leave no trace” to suggestions for reducing the one-time use of plastics and respecting local traditions and cultures. Responsible tourism practices like these harmonize the economic necessity for travel with the needs of residents.

Tourism plays an indispensable role in Monterey’s economy. In 2018, visitors spent $3 billion in Monterey County, employing 25,000 people and generating $135 million in local tax revenue.

Long Beach Airport Continues to Soar

The City of Long Beach invested $59 million to ensure that its airport remains one of the nation’s top-ranked facilities and keeps tourism dollars flowing into the city. Long Beach Airport launched its first phase of upgrades in 2012. A sleek indoor and outdoor passenger terminal with new gate areas and upscale eateries was among some of the initial renovations — and it’s paying off. In 2018, tourism in the Long Beach-Catalina Island area generated $1.8 billion in economic activity, 15,000 jobs, and $184 million in tax revenue.

New ticketing and baggage claim areas and a revamped car rental facility are among improvements planned for 2020–21. These upgrades will improve the flow of passengers from the curb to the gate, enhance passenger convenience, and reduce vehicle congestion in the terminal loop. A 125-room airport hotel is slated to open this year.

Leveraging Tourism to Grow Your City’s Economy

With the state’s tourism industry on the cusp of unprecedented growth in 2020, there’s no better time to harness your region’s tourism economy. Establishing tourism hubs, advocating sustainable tourism, and renovating infrastructure are just a few ways to power local economies and improve the lives of residents.

Related Resources

Long Beach Public Art Festival Spurs Economic Activity

Palm Desert Capitalizes on Arts and Culture

Temecula’s Arts and Culture Support a Thriving Economy

For information on how Visit California is helping lead the effort to promote the Golden State as a premier travel destination, visit

Read more on the economic impact of tourism and benefits of travel and tourism to California’s economy at

Photo Credit: Marcus Mainka/ (Long Beach Airport); ZikG/ (Sacramento DOCO); Courtesy of Visit California (Monterey)