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OC Tourism Spending Up 5.3% in 2023; $15.8B­­

Tourism spending in Orange County grew 5.3% to $15.8 billion in 2023, according to the state’s tourism marketing organization Visit California.

It’s the second straight year that the county has beat its pre-pandemic spending of $14.5 billion in 2019.

The pandemic devastated the OC tourism industry, home to destinations like Disneyland Resort, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, as spending plunged to $6.8 billion in 2020.

The pandemic caused about 42,000 job losses, which have been recovering in the past two years; Orange County now counts over 132,000 people employed in tourism-related industries as of 2023, slightly above the 132,370 employed in 2019.

The Disneyland Resort, which employs about 35,000 workers, does not disclose exact attendance numbers; it did say its 2023 attendance rose from the prior year.

The resort, which includes California Adventure, drew an estimated 26 million visitors in 2022, according to a report from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). Disneyland is the second-largest amusement park in the country, while California Adventure is No. 8, according to the report.

Orange County is the state’s fourth-largest tourism region, following San Francisco Bay Area, $37.7 billion; Los Angeles, $34.1 billion; and San Diego County, $16.1 billion. The least popular destination at $1.3 billion in travel spending is the North Coast, a coastal area from Humboldt County to the Oregon border.

Tourism in OC generated $728 million in local taxes and another $584 million for the state. Overall, tourism generated $12.7 billion in state and local tax revenue in 2023, the agency said.

Statewide Recovery

The state’s tourism industry also appears to have recovered from the 2020 pandemic. Overall traveler spending in California hit $144.9 billion in 2019 before falling in half to $68.3 billion in 2020.

Last year’s 5.6% climb to $150.4 billion is the first time statewide spending was above 2019, according to Visit California.

“California tourism is back where it belongs—setting records and providing for the workers, business owners and all Californians who depend on the travel industry as a cornerstone of our state’s economy,” Visit California Chief Executive Caroline Beteta said in a statement.

The Sacramento-based nonprofit manages statewide marketing programs, conducts traveler research and promotes destinations throughout California.

It defines trips as those taken by individuals who stay overnight away from home or travel more than 50 miles one way on a non-routine trip. Spending is extracted from sales in accommodations, food services, entertainment, local transportation, retail and other industries made within the state or region.

“The Economic Impact of Travel in California” report was prepared by Portland, Ore.-based Dean Runyan Associates for the travel nonprofit.

Food service is the state’s biggest tourism industry, at $34.8 billion, followed by accommodations, $32.8 billion, and local transportation and gas stores, $18.6 billion.

As of last year, the number of employees in the hospitality and tourism industry grew by 64,000 jobs to 1.15 million, according to the report. The pandemic put an estimated 500,000 California tourism employees out of work. Employment in 2023 reached 98% of 2019 levels, the report said.

International travel has almost returned to normal in California; visitors spending jumped 38% to $24 billion. However, it’s still below the $29 billion peak in 2018, the report indicated.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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