Harbor Island
Two of San Diego’s many attractions: Harbor Island with the downtown skyline in the background. Photo by Chris Jennewein

California’s tourism economy grew by 32% in 2022 and is poised to set new records this year for visitor spending, employment and tax generation, according to an industry economic impact report.

The data, from Visit California, a Sacramento-based advocacy group for the state’s tourism industry, includes breakouts from local regions. San Diego County tourism, for instance, generated $13.3 billion in visitor spending – around 10% of the state’s total – and 96,000 jobs.

Key statewide takeaways include:

  • Travel spending increased to $134.4 billion across California last year, a nearly 32% increase over 2021 that brought spending within 7% of pre-pandemic levels.
  • California’s travel sector added 157,000 jobs in 2022. The 1.1 million positions is within 6% of the 2019 levels, before the devastating losses that hit the industry during the pandemic.
  • Projections from Tourism Economics show California this year will surpass the record $144.9 billion in visitor spending achieved in 2019, a year sooner than expected.
  • State and local taxes paid by visitors reached $11.9 billion, within 10% of pre-pandemic levels.

Most of the spending is concentrated on hotel and other accommodations, followed by food services and local transportation and retail sales.

Tourism jobs are also concentrated in those areas, with more than 600,000 in accommodations and food services alone.

Travel spending plummeted in 2020, as the pandemic lockdown took hold. Tourism in California had generated nearly $145 billion the year before; that figure that was cut in half.

New community sentiment research was also released by Visit California, indicating that state residents value the tourism economy. More than 70% say tourism generates local business opportunities and provides jobs for residents.