Monterey County’s 2022 travel-related spending totaled $3,054,102,143, generated about $307.3 million in state and local tax revenue and supported about 25,400 jobs, according to the recently released Visit California 2022 Economic Impact Report of the California trip by Dean Runyan Associates. (James Herrera/Monterey Herald)
MONTEREY – Travel-related spending in Monterey County hit the $3.1 billion mark in 2022, putting it at 94.25% of the $3.2 billion pre-pandemic figure for 2019, and though 2023 year off to a rocky start with the effects of winter weather, the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau is taking an optimistically cautious tone heading into the summer.
“We wouldn’t be doing as well as we are now without the smart but aggressive approach we’ve taken during the pandemic,” Rob O’Keefe, MCCVB president and CEO, said in a press release. “We will not reach the full potential of our tourism economy if we do not maintain our strategy for managed growth in the coming years.”
Monterey County’s tourism industry is the number one economic driver on the Monterey Peninsula and the second most important driver for the county, but the industry is feeling the lingering effects of a severe winter storm season.
Monterey County’s 2022 travel-related spending totaled $3,054,102,143, generated about $307.3 million in state and local tax revenue and supported about 25,400 jobs, according to the recently released Visit California 2022 Economic Impact Report of the California trip by Dean Runyan Associates.
Hotel revenue in 2022 significantly surpassed 2019, the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau says, but restaurant spending is well below pre-pandemic levels. This suggests that the destination’s visitor mix remains unbalanced with an over-reliance on market visitors who are known to bring their own food and drink and spend less in restaurants. This is a challenge that the Visitor’s Bureau anticipates and is addressing within its long-term strategic roadmap.
“The MCCVB led the development of the destination’s first-ever long-term strategic plan through 2022, which included all stakeholders in the tourism economy, from hospitality businesses to residents and elected officials,” said Terry Owens, general manager of Embassy Suites Monterey Bay and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Visitor’s Bureau in the announcement. “The goal is to come back better than we were before. While we are making great progress, the recently released numbers show where we need to focus.”
A key strategy within the long-term strategic roadmap is to more aggressively target inbound visitors who tend to stay longer, do more and spend more. The Visitor’s Bureau conducted a 2022 study by Tourism Economics that showed air visitors spend an average of $1,364 per trip compared to a drive-in market of $959 – part of the difference being restaurant spending.
In its 2022 fiscal year, Monterey Regional Airport saw boardings — passengers flying out of the airport on commercial airlines — grow 121.4 percent when it recorded 228,763, compared to fiscal 2021’s 103,309 boardings.
“The propulsion market will always be our base, but we have an opportunity to rebalance with growth in the flying markets,” O’Keefe said. “Our goal is not more people, but a better balance in the visitor mix.”
The Visitor’s Bureau analysis showed that Monterey County can significantly increase visitor spending without significantly increasing visitor numbers, and extended stays are key to this strategy. Extending the average by just one more night could add nearly $900 million in additional costs.
The bureau acknowledges that there is still work to do to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau says in the first quarter of 2023, Monterey County’s tourism industry was hit by winter storms on two fronts, including suppressing travel below 2022 levels during this year’s severe weather and providing ample snowfall in the Sierras, which will extend the ski season.
Adding to this pressure is the slow return of group, international and business travelers. But according to the Visitor’s Bureau, hotel revenue spending for groups and meetings in Monterey County increased 47 percent in 2023 over the previous year. International visitors from Canada, Mexico and parts of Europe are returning to California, but high-value markets in Asia have lagged behind in the recovery. The group and international travel sectors tend to stay longer, spend significantly more and create less congestion on our roads, having a greater impact on the local economy, particularly at times of the year when leisure travel is softer.
Monterey County’s competition — Napa Valley, San Luis Obispo County, Tahoe and Santa Barbara — is working to increase demand for their destinations as summer approaches, O’Keefe said.
Keeping Monterey County competitive, the Visitor’s Bureau and its Board of Directors are continuing their aggressive strategies outlined in the long-term strategic roadmap to ensure the destination thrives this year and into the future, he said.
“Monterey County is breathtakingly beautiful and inspiring, but we recognize that travelers have many choices,” O’Keefe said. “The competitive environment is evolving and growing.”