Why Tourism Matters, and Our Focus on Our Industry in 2016 ~ By Lisa Mayo, Executive Director, Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau

Sonora, CA…Does this election season have you thinking, “I need a vacation”? Though you may not realize it, you’re actually doing yourself and your country a great service if you take one. When you pack your bags and travel, you’re helping to grow local economies, create American jobs and improve your own work performance, relationships and personal well-being. That’s why policies that protect and promote travel—from improvements to our roads and airports, to safely keeping America’s doors open to international visitors—are necessary for the health of our country. Right now, we’re working to highlight how important the travel industry is for Tuolumne County, and making sure that our elected officials, both on the campaign trail and off, know it.


First, let’s start with travel’s huge role in our national economy post-recession. The U.S. travel industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has recovered far faster than other economic sectors since 2008. Today, travel is a $2.1 trillion industry that supports one out of nine U.S. jobs. That benefit didn’t just stay in top tourism hubs like New York, Orlando and Las Vegas; it ripples throughout communities nationwide: In 2014 visitor spending in Tuolumne County was $206 million and we anticipate 2015 numbers to be even higher!

Travel also brings remarkable benefits to our personal lives. Multiple research studies have confirmed the positive health effects from vacations and time off, from reducing risk of heart disease to decreased depression. According to a Project: Time Off survey, most kids (61%) look forward to family vacations as a time to bond with their parents—and kids who travel are more likely to graduate from college, and earn an average of $5,000 more annually as adults. And at work, most bosses (80%) agree that employees taking vacation is good for their team.

Given these extraordinary returns, and in light of National Travel and Tourism Week (May 1-7, 2016), it’s important that elected leaders seek avenues to support and expand travel to and within the U.S., and right here in Tuolumne County.

Strengthening the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) would both boost our economy and improve security for all travelers in the U.S. The program allows pre-screened and pre-approved travelers from 38 of America’s closest and most trusted allied countries to enter the U.S. without a visitor visa.

You may not think this is important to us, but the San Francisco Bay Area welcomed 24.6 million visitors in 2015. While international visitors represent
.ed single-digit numbers – just 2.85 million – they spent $4.65 billion – representing 63% of funds spent on overnight accommodations. This is the customer we want to visit our County during their stay. International visitors stay longer and spend more than domestic visitors, and our clean air and water, beautiful scenery, gold rush history and California-fresh food sources are key reasons international visitors are interested in our area.

We are also in position to boost travel’s effect on our lives and Tuolumne County’s economy, by encouraging the American workforce to use their earned time off. The U.S. is well on its way to becoming a “no vacation nation,” with a 20-percent decline in vacation days used since the year 2000. Many workers cite a lack of encouragement from employers and a work culture emphasizing productivity above balance. This lifestyle has consequences for our health, our relationships and our families. We are doing this with our ongoing partnership with the San Francisco Travel Association and its 7,000 members – people like us, as part of the tourism industry, who often put off that well-earned vacation time.

(One benefit to taking time off in our area is that, perhaps just for a weekend, you can escape this year’s election noise as some of our out-of-the-way places are proud to admit their Wi-Fi is lacking – and that’s a good thing!)

We are fortunate that our county includes more than half of one of the nation’s most visited national parks. Our gateway communities benefit from Americans and international visitors traveling to visit Yosemite, but we still have to remind them of the importance of entering the park through our county, and using our gateway as their overnight choice.

Nationally, if people took just one more day off each year, it would generate an extra $73 billion annually for the economy. What if we pledged during National Tourism Week to spend two days in a part of our county we haven’t been to in at least a year?

Travel makes a difference in our communities and lives every day. As we celebrate the impact of travel this week, here are some ways you can participate in promoting travel, and preserving our local economy:

Even if you don’t believe your local business is part of the travel economy, everyone in Tuolumne County is in some way effected by tourism. Attend our Tourism Summit this year on Thursday, May 5 at The Hotel at Black Oak Casino Resort beginning with a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m., including lunch, and concluding at 2:00 p.m. Information we will share includes an update on the interest of the Chinese market to California, best practices for our businesses to
attract this market – who are seeking new experiences, the starry skies of our area, clean water and air and natural beauty; and a social media influencer and expert who will speak to us about ways to get our own cities, attractions, lodging and outdoor experiences noticed – in big numbers. We’ll also have an overview of the state’s tourism effort from Visit California and local data provided by the Visitor Bureau and County, which maintains the YARTS transportation system.

Tickets are $60 for Visitor Bureau members and $75 for non-members, and may be purchased by calling the Tuolumne CountyVisitors Bureau at 209-533-4420.The Summit will be held at The Hotel’s conference facility, The Hotel at Black Oak Casino Resort,19400 Tuolumne Road, Tuolumne CA 95379.

Write a letter to your local state representatives in support of the tourism industry. If you need the contact information let us know and we can email it to you. Call the Visitors Bureau at (209) 533-4420.

Show your support by requesting a copy of the National Travel & Tourism Week logo to place in your business window, car window, on the bottom of your emails through May 7, and anywhere else you feel you have a method of showing your support. Call the Visitors Bureau for assistance in obtaining the logo: (209) 533-4420.

Attend one of our Visitors Bureau’s monthly Board meetings. All partners are welcome to attend. Meetings are held the third Thursday of each month (except for December) at 2pm at the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce Office at 222 S. Shepherd Street.