The real reason behind the tourism spending spike in California

Tourism spending in California hit a post-pandemic record, showing that tourists spent $150 billion visiting the Golden State in 2023, a new report shows. 

Why the increase?

A closer look at the numbers shows the short answer for the spending spike is inflation. 

Things cost more last year than they did four years ago.

Even so, Gov. Gavin Newsom touted the statewide increase in tourism spending as a win.

In a video he circulated on social media over the weekend he talked about the "magnificence" of the San Francisco Bay, and chose to discuss the findings on top of the Golden Gate Bridge to "announce our record-breaking tourism numbers." 

The Economic Impact of Travel in California, prepared by Dean Runyan Associates, showed that tourism spending in 2019 in California was $144 billion.

But the money spent varies by region, and the spending wasn't quite as robust in the Bay Area.

According to the state tourism website, Visit California, tourists spent $37.7 billion in the Bay Area in 2023, down slightly from $39 billion spent in 2019.

Statewide, the report says that adjusting for inflation, travel spending in California is actually down 14% from its peak in 2019.

But the report does add that 98% of travel-industry jobs that existed in California before the pandemic have now returned. The report's authors also count that as a sign that the tourism industry has recovered since 2020.