In the US last year, travel accounted for $1.2 trillion in direct spending, resulting in an economic footprint of $2.6 trillion. This trip supported nearly 15 million workers and gave direct employment to 8 million people. In California, travel spending grew to $134.4 billion, and California’s tourism industry supported more than 1 million jobs.
Last year in San Jose, the $2.4 billion spent by visitors generated a total economic impact of $3.2 billion. This total economic impact includes 21,135 jobs and $367 million in state and local tax revenue. For perspective, that $367 million in tax revenue would cover the salaries of more than 5,100 public school teachers.
According to San Jose Downtown Association CEO Alex Stetinski at the association’s recent annual meeting, out-of-town visitors to our downtown area are 105% of pre-Covid numbers. This is good news, especially while we are still fighting to regain lost ground on many serious fronts across the city. There is little we can do to correct many of the macroeconomic forces our city is currently under – we cannot solve the commercial mortgage crisis. Also, the idea that everyone will ever return to a 40-hour office work week seems increasingly unrealistic.
As we deal with the post-Covid effects together as many hubs, could investment in tourism be a viable answer to jump-starting San Jose’s economy? Especially in our center? Why not fish where the fish are? What happens when we invest more where we currently see an economic return?
The strategy that is destination marketing is robust. Through sales and marketing efforts, we invite foreign residents to meet and visit San Jose for work and play. They spend the night in hotels and pay a bed fee. While here, they eat in our restaurants, meet our busy workers, see our museums, attend our cultural performances – all the while paying taxes without using city services. Before COVID, the revenue added by visitors served to reduce the tax burden on residents by nearly $1,000 per household.
Some say there is no reason to visit San Jose. That there is no there, here. This is bullshit, and our visitors confirm it with their presence and their dollars. San Jose is the best place in the Bay Area, possibly in the country, to host your corporate meeting. Before COVID, through the annual meetings of Apple, Facebook and other global brands, the world saw this. The convention campus created with our state-of-the-art convention center and magnificent downtown theaters is unbeatable and sets unparalleled standards in our industry.
On the user visits side, let’s challenge again everyone who says there is no reason to visit San Jose. Geographical beauty and cultural treasures aside, San Jose’s place in history is reason enough to visit. Remarkable things began and happened here.
Cesar Chavez lived here, organized here, and held one of his first boycotts of San Jose’s Safeway. Now this site, Mexican Heritage Plaza, is dedicated to Chicano and Mexican-American heritage.
San Jose State athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos came here to Speed City to make the most overt political statements in modern Olympic history. As they raised their fists during the national anthem, they drew global attention to the injustice and inequality that millions of Americans are subjected to.
The first hard drive ever created is embedded in our downtown sidewalk. This incredible valley, located below the century-old scientific study at Lick Observatory, is the place that gave birth to the digital age – forever changing the trajectory of human experience.
That’s not enough, “there?” There are so many more reasons.
Last year, the main reason to visit San Jose was cultural – Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and FanimeCon filled the most hotel rooms. Theaters in San Jose presented more shows than before COVID and with higher attendance. Will investment in new and more cultural reasons to visit create even greater opportunity?
When executed with integrity, tourism not only relieves the local tax burden, but also creates civic vitality. This increases cross-cultural interactions and understanding. It can help preserve and protect local arts and traditions and create cultural exchange for residents and visitors. Tourism also builds a workforce with diverse employment opportunities and proven economic mobility.
Isn’t it the perfect time to invest more in this strategy that returns for all of us?
San José Spotlight columnist John Lafortune is president and CEO of Team San Jose, the nonprofit parent company of Visit San Jose, the city’s official marketing organization. Team San Jose also operates the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and entertainment venues including the California Theatre, Center for Performing Arts, Montgomery Theater and San Jose Civic. Contact John at [email protected].