LaFortune: Why we need to invest in San Jose tourism
Crowds pack downtown San Jose during the 2017 SubZERO Festival. Photo courtesy of Team San Jose.

Tourism matters.

In the U.S. last year, travel accounted for $1.2 trillion in direct spending which produced an economic footprint of $2.6 trillion. This travel supported nearly 15 million workers and directly employed 8 million people. In California, travel spending grew to $134.4 billion, and the California travel industry supported more than 1 million jobs.

Last year in San Jose, the $2.4 billion spent by visitors generated a total economic impact of $3.2 billion. This total economic impact included 21,135 jobs and $367 million in state and local tax revenues. For perspective, this $367 million in taxes generated would cover the salaries of more than 5,100 public school teachers.

According to San Jose Downtown Association CEO Alex Stettinski at the association’s recent annual meeting, out of area visitors to our downtown are at 105% of pre-COVID numbers. This is good news, especially while we are still struggling to regain lost ground on many serious fronts citywide. There is little we can do to fix many of the macro-economic forces our city is currently subject to—we cannot solve the commercial real estate mortgage crisis. Also, the idea that all will ever return to a 40-hour, in-office work week seems more and more unrealistic.

As we address post-COVID effects together like many downtowns, could investment in tourism be a viable answer to jump-start San Jose’s economy quickly? Especially in our downtown? Why not fish where the fish are? What happens when we invest more where we are currently seeing economic returns?

The strategy that is destination marketing is a sound one. Through sales and marketing efforts, we invite non-residents to meet and visit San Jose for work and play. They stay overnight in hotels and pay a bed tax. While here, they eat in our restaurants, meet in our labor-employed facilities, explore our museums, attend our cultural performances—all the while paying taxes without using city services. Pre-COVID, the revenue added by visitors served to reduce the tax burden on residents by nearly $1,000 per household.

Some say there is no reason to visit San Jose. That there is no there, here. That is baloney and our visitors confirm this with their attendance and dollars. San Jose is the best place in the Bay Area, likely the country, to host your corporate meeting. Pre-COVID, through the annual meetings of Apple, Facebook and other global brands, the world saw this. The convention campus created with our state-of the-art convention center and gorgeous downtown theaters is unbeatable and sets unmatchable standards in our industry.

On the consumer visitation side, again, let’s challenge all who say there is no reason to visit San Jose. Geographic beauty and cultural treasures aside, San Jose’s place in history is reason enough to visit. Remarkable things started here and happened here.

Cesar Chavez lived here, organized here and held one of his first Safeway boycotts in San Jose. Now that site, Mexican Heritage Plaza, is dedicated to Chicano and Mexican American heritage.

San Jose State athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos came here, to “Speed City,” where they formulated the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympics. As they raised their fists during the national anthem, they drew global attention to the injustice and inequality endured by millions of Americans.

The very first hard drive ever created is embedded in our downtown sidewalk. This incredible valley, sitting beneath the century-long scientific exploration at Lick Observatory, is the place that birthed the digital age—forever changing the trajectory of the human experience.

This is not enough, “there?” There are so many more reasons.

Last year, the top reason for visiting San Jose was cultural—Taylor Swift, Beyonce and FanimeCon filled the most hotel rooms. San Jose theaters delivered more performances than pre-COVID and with greater attendance numbers. Will investment in new and more cultural reasons to visit create even greater opportunity?

When executed with integrity, tourism not only relieves resident tax burden, but it also creates civic vibrancy. It increases cross-cultural interactions and understanding. It can help preserve and protect local arts and traditions and create cultural exchanges for residents and visitors. Tourism also builds a workforce with varied employment opportunities and with proven economic mobility.

Isn’t it the perfect time to invest more in this strategy that is returning for us all?

San José Spotlight columnist John LaFortune is the president and CEO of Team San Jose, the nonprofit parent company of Visit San Jose, the city’s official destination marketing organization. Team San Jose also manages the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and entertainment venues including the California Theatre, the Center for Performing Arts, Montgomery Theater and San Jose Civic. Contact John at [email protected].

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