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U.S. Cities Suffering From Tourism Slump

Report blames sluggish economy and lingering effects of Sept. 11 for losses. Officials say it may take three more years for L.A. to recover.

October 21, 2002|Bonnie Harris

The sluggish economy and the effect on travelers' psyches of last year's terrorist attacks resulted in the loss of nearly $2 billion in international visitor spending and 34,000 tourism-related jobs in Los Angeles over the last two years, according to a study of U.S. cities that have large tourism industries.

The report, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Travel Business Roundtable and the International Assn. of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, found that Los Angeles ranked third, behind New York and Chicago, in terms of such losses.

While local tourism officials have noted a slight rebound in hiring in some sectors of the travel industry, many expect it to take an additional three years before Los Angeles returns to levels set in 2000, when records for spending and hiring were broken.

"The forecast is not very positive for us right now," Michael Collins, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recently. "It's going to take us longer to recover than we ever imagined."

Overall tourism spending in Los Angeles is expected to be $11.6 billion this year, down from $13.6 billion in 2000, because of a slump in business and leisure travel after last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The city is believed to have lost $1.8 billion in spending by international tourists over the last two years.

The decline in foreign tourists hurt some places more than others, according to the report. Of the 30 cities hardest hit by the travel downturn since Sept. 11, six are in California: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Anaheim and Riverside.

San Francisco ranked second, behind New York, with an estimated loss of $1.2 billion this year directly attributable to the effect of Sept. 11. The city has lost about 22,000 tourism-related jobs over the last two years.

Tourism job losses have also been severe in San Diego, where 24% of industry jobs have been cut since 2000. The city ranked third, behind Phoenix and Orlando, Fla., in terms of jobs lost, the report found.

Officials said the study reaffirms the need for federal help in selling the United States as a travel destination to international visitors. The U.S. is the third-most visited country behind France and Spain, according to the Conference of Mayors.

The group is asking Congress to create a national tourism marketing corporation to promote international travel to the U.S. -- a $103-billion market annually. Officials said the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation whose government doesn't directly spend money on marketing tourism abroad.

"As tourism goes, so goes the economic well-being of our communities," Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors' travel and tourism unit, said in a statement. "We cannot leave it to chance."

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