Tourists from throughout the country are drawn to California’s spectacular coastline like this woman viewing the surf in La Jolla. Photo by Chris Stone

By Gene Zanger | Special for CalMatters

To those who’ve heard it, the history of the Zanger family business represents the quintessential American success story: Italian immigrant family prospers through decades of hard work, innovation and luck.

Generations of my family worked for years to build Casa de Fruta from a seasonal cherry stand to a multi-dimensional road-trip traveler’s paradise. My grandmother Clara provided the innovation: “Build a restroom and travelers will stop.” She was right. The luck? Turns out that little cherry stand on Pacheco Pass was between Monterey and Yosemite and in the middle of the two major north-south corridors between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Like all California businesses that rely on visitors to thrive, Casa de Fruta now faces the toughest challenge of its 112-year history. The coronavirus pandemic has devastated California’s tourism economy, shuttered restaurants and hotels, sent at least 600,000 tourism workers to the unemployment line and gutted the budgets of local governments that depend on the taxes visitors pay to fund basic services.

We know that about half of Californians remain uncomfortable moving far beyond their homes for any but the most essential reasons.

But we also know that others are already traveling, and even more are ready to venture out if they feel they will be safe.

Soon after the pandemic arrived and shut down the economy, California tourism businesses recognized the public health and business imperative to provide a safe environment. Here’s what we’ve done to make travel in California safer:

  • Key industry segments — restaurants, hotels, retail, wineries, RV parks and campgrounds — moved quickly to develop sanitation protocols to protect workers and consumers.
  • Tourism businesses were among the first to advocate for the widespread use of face coverings and continue to do so. It’s a no-brainer. It reduces community spread. Also, wearing masks and seeing workers and others doing so extends a measure of comfort to our guests.
  • Dozens of California destination marketing organizations and tourism businesses developed consumer materials – websites, email alerts, videos, brochures – outlining safe travel rules. Visit California widely disseminated its RESPECT California safe and responsible travel code. These efforts continue to urge consumers to call ahead before traveling to a California destination, abide by all local public health rules, and travel and share hotel rooms only with people from the same family or household. Travel is not inherently dangerous if travelers take the same safety precautions they embrace at home.

Ensuring safe, responsible behavior is a shared responsibility between visitors, residents, business owners and employees. This is especially important in areas with high visitation, where the economic livelihoods of residents and businesses depend heavily on tourism.

Residents and business staff need to set the example by adopting safety principles themselves. They must help visitors by explaining local rules and expectations and encouraging compliance.

Gene Zanger

Business owners and their employees must not only comply with health orders but communicate those rules clearly to visitors and residents. If patrons decline to comply, they should not be served.

California’s tourism industry understands that many people do not want to travel at this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back when they feel comfortable.

But we want those who do hit the road — to rediscover California’s bounty of cultural and natural attractions and maybe stop at a roadside cherry stand – to do so safely and expect the highest level of safety from our industry.

Gene Zanger is a partner in Casa de Fruta and on the board of Visit California, where he serves as vice chairman of marketing. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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