Visitors to Los Angeles County spent $11.9 billion last year, racking up a 5% year-over-year increase in revenue even as total tourism rates declined because of international economic turmoil, local travel industry officials said Wednesday.
Last year marked the seventh straight year tourist spending has grown in the region, according to statistics from the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Revenue for 1998 was up $600 million over 1997's total even though visitor volume dropped by 120,000 to just less than 23.6 million.
While boom times in the U.S. economy drove up domestic tourism by 240,000 visitors, economic hardships abroad caused nearly twice the number of international visitors to stay home. Despite increases in the rate of visitors from Europe, countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Mexico offset those gains, posting drops of 9% or more. Travel from South Korea, one of the countries hardest hit by the Asian economic downturn, fell by nearly 60%.
At the same time, domestic visitors spent $600 million more last year than the year before, making up for international spending that was flat despite the drop in foreign travelers.
"The relationship between individual income and travel is so closely joined," said Michael Collins of the visitors bureau. "The more discretionary income you have, the more you will travel. It's that simple."
That correlation, Collins said, has bode well for Los Angeles County's economy, which derives 5% of its employment, or about 330,000 jobs, from the travel industry. The travel industry is the third-largest revenue-generating industry in L.A. County. Business management and health services are the top two.