International tourism to LA still lags behind pre-COVID era. There's a push to court more visitors

Terry Castleman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES — After several down years, tourism in Los Angeles County is on the rebound.

But the recovery from the COVID-19 lull has been uneven to this point, officials say — with far fewer international visitors making their way to L.A. than during the last pre-pandemic year.

"Domestic leisure travel has really led the recovery process" and has fully recovered after tourism was upended by the pandemic, said Adam Burke, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.

However, international tourism is still down nearly a third from 2019. "We have a significant amount of work to do to drive recovery internationally," Burke said.

That slower recovery comes at a cost.

"Overseas visitors are by far our most valuable guests," Burke said, adding that it takes nearly three domestic travelers to spend as much as the typical guest from another country, according to his organization's figures.


He blamed a slow process that often makes prospective international travelers wait more than a year for a visa — a delay he characterized as a "significant deterrent."

Domestically, widespread issues in the air travel industry have "wreaked havoc on travel schedules" and could be damping domestic tourism to Los Angeles, Burke said.

Meetings and conventions — which in 2019 brought in $24 billion, compared with the $31 billion racked up from leisure visitation — have also struggled to rebound. So far this year, they're tracking at only 81% of their 2019 level.

The tourism industry employs nearly 560,000 people, making it one of the county's top five employers, according to Burke.


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