published on May 23, 2016 - 10:53 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
What do the Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, Hearst Castle and Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo have in common? According to a recent report, all are among California’s most popular tourist attractions.

In fact, of the 29 Golden State counties covered in a new report from Visit California, Fresno County ranked fifth-highest in tourist spending, with visitors pumping a whopping $1.41 billion dollars into the local economy, an increase of 1.8 percent from 2014.

“2015 was the sixth consecutive year of growth” for California’s $122 billion tourism industry, said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, a nonprofit that is involved in promoting the state’s tourism industry nationally and is also known as the California Travel & Tourism Commission.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo, which is drawing huge crowds to its new African Adventure exhibit, is just one of a number of area tourist attractions seeing a noticeable uptick in business during the past year.

The surge in tourist spending benefits a wide range of local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, retailers and rental car companies as well as popular area attractions like the Tower District, Saroyan Theatre, SaveMart Center and Forestiere Underground Gardens.

In heralding the importance of tourism to the state’s overall economy, Beteta said, “Tourism has the ability to drive economic development and revitalization” — two issues that are certainly key to Fresno’s current effort to turn the city’s financial fortunes around.

Layla Forstedt, president and CEO of the Fresno/Clovis Convention & Visitors Bureau, hailed the growth in visitor spending in Fresno County and the resulting economic impact as “a win-win for all.”

According to the Visit California report, which was produced in partnership with Portland, Oregon-based Dean Runyan Associates, total direct travel spending in California in 2015 equaled $122.5 billion, a 3.4 percent increase from 2014.

And the future looks even rosier according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which projects Golden State tourism-related spending will increase by 2.7 percent this year.

Visit California estimates the tourism industry supports more than one million jobs statewide. According to its latest report, the Central Valley’s economy saw an infusion of $2 billion tourism-related dollars in 2015.

In addition to the nearly one and a half billion tourist dollars pumped into Fresno County businesses last year, Visit California reported Tulare County attracted $448 million in tourist spending, Kings County garnered $153 million and Madera County pulled in $274 million in 2015.

In Fresno County alone, the total tax revenues created by tourism last year added $111 million to county coffers.

Meanwhile, Fresno Yosemite International Airport is experiencing “an unprecedented surge” in revenue related to passenger growth in 2016.

The number of travelers passing through FYI so far this year is up 11 percent from 2015, according to FYI Director of Aviation Kevin Meikle, who said the increase in area flyers is due to two factors: more scheduled daily flights in and out of the regional airport and increased seat capacity on larger aircraft servicing FYI.

With 65 new events, record-breaking attendance and the largest gross box office sales that the Selland Arena and Saroyan Theatre have seen “in a long time,” officials at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center (FCEC) are predicting 2016 will be one of their best years.

Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center, which is owned by the City of Fresno and managed by SMG, includes Selland Arena, Saroyan Theatre, Fresno Convention Center and Valdez Hall.

In addition to ticketed events, the FCEC has contracted six large conventions to be held in Fresno, some through 2020.

These events include the Future Farmers of America Convention, CA USA Wrestling Championships, 98th American Legion Convention, Order of the Rainbow Girls Grand Convention and Vision Global Convention.

The release of the latest Visit California report was timed to coincide with National Travel and Tourism Week, which takes place the first week of May.

“National Travel and Tourism Week is an important reminder of how travel and tourism touches everyone, and the importance of continuing to highlight our state as a premier travel destination,” Beteta said. “The new report reinforces the importance of reaching potential visitors with an invitation to Dream Big in California.”

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