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published on May 17, 2017 - 11:54 AM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

Visitors to the Central Valley spent more than $1.96 billion in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties last year, according to a new report that local tourism officials say forecasts good things to come.

Visit California, the state’s tourism marketing agency, recently released a report from research firm Dean Runyan Associates that details state travel impacts by county through 2016. It reveals that visitor spending in the Central Valley either held steady or saw up to 3.4 percent in gains in 2016 compared to 2015.

Eric Coyne, deputy Tulare County administrator for economic development, film & tourism, said the Runyan report’s metrics are important in his industry because they track visitor credit card spending, which tells you the visitor’s home zip code.

Tulare County saw visitor spending of $381 million last year, up 1 percent from the pervious year. Given those are direct outside dollars pumped into the economy that recirculate locally, they represent an important economic driver that helps local government.

“Let me put it this way,” Coyne said. “Somebody from Ohio is probably helping to pay for your police and fire.”

Layla Forstedt, CEO and president of the Fresno/Clovis Convention & Visitors Bureau, said her organization also tracks visitor spending as well as hotel occupancy rates in the area. She’s encouraged by this report, which found that visitor spending was up 3.1 percent last year in Fresno County to $1.19 billion.

“We are very excited, and not really surprised,” Forstedt said.

Forstedt today unveiled a new tourism and marketing campaign that celebrates Fresno County and promotes the region as an important tourist destination. The $40,000 “Realize Fresno County” campaign encourages residents to insert their own favorite local gem in the phrase “Realize ____.” She also hopes in the next few months that Fresno’s first welcome center will open near her organization’s office at 1180 E. Shaw.

Coyne pointed out these travel-spending increases came as the state was embroiled in drought, and associated issues such as high levels of tree mortality in the Sierras remain. Now with the increased rain and snowfall, the rising levels of Valley waterways are a new concern. Flood warnings have been issued for the Merced River in Yosemite, and the Tule River in the South Valley has been closed in spots after multiple drowning fatalities.

“There’s a yin and a yang for all these things,” Coyne said, pointing out that drought conditions also made high-country access easier in the Sierras.

According to the Runyan report, direct travel spending in California hit $126.3 billion last year, up 3.1 percent over 2015 in current dollars and 3.2 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Direct travel also generated nearly 1.1 million jobs last year, up 3.4 percent over 2015. Travel generated tax revenues hit $10.3 billion, up 3.8 percent over 2015.

Visitor spending by the numbers in 2016:

Fresno County
• $1.19 billion, up 3.1 percent from 2015
• 14,540 jobs created
• $42 million in local, $71 million in state tax revenue

Kings County
• $130 million, even from 2015
• 1,850 jobs created
• $3 million in local, $9 million in state tax revenue

Madera County
• $260 million, up 3.4 percent from 2015
• 3,430 jobs created
• $9 million in local, $14 million in state tax revenue

Tulare County
• $381 million, up 1 percent from 2015
• 5,090 jobs created
• $15 in local, $24 million in state tax revenue

Source: Dean Runyan Associates travel spending report


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