New research on tourism in greater Palm Springs shows record-breaking numbers. It indicates a post-pandemic recovery is here, years before some experts expected it to happen.
The report released Monday by Visit Greater Palm Springs shows the Valley's tourism and hospitality industry is the strongest it's ever been: Visitors spent a whopping $7.1 billion last year.
In 2022, 14.1 million visitors came to the Valley, which is more than a million compared to 2021; and roughly the same amount as before the pandemic in 2019. The key difference is spending: In 2019, visitors spent $5.9 billion, which was slightly higher than 2021.
According to the report, in 2022, "The direct visitor spending impact of $7.1 billion generated a total economic impact of $8.7 billion in Greater Palm Springs in 2022 including indirect and induced impacts. This total economic impact sustained more than 49,000 jobs and generated $812 million in state and local tax revenues in 2022."
Visitor spending expanded 26% in 2022,Economic Impact of Visitors in Greater Palm Springs Report, April 2023
surpassing 2019 levels by nearly 20%.
"Tourism is the number one industry in our community," Colleen Pace, the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Visit Greater Palm Springs, said. Pace said while costs have gone up, so have new attractions in the Valley. "We know there's been a lot of pent-up demand for travel, demand travel, and our destination has been at the top of the list for many leisure travelers," she said.
More than 30 percent of the $7.1 billion was spent on lodging, which includes hotels and short-term rentals. "I love it! It's great news for us," the Director of Human Resources at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa, Stefanie Pagela, said. "I don't think we're surprised that we're back, because people want to vacation, and they want to interact and spend time with their families. The pandemic created such a need for balance," she said.
And that's a trend also seen at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, which hosted a record number of visitors last year.
"These are people who had saved up their travel money during the covid years, and they were itching to go out and do something fun and exciting. And so we saw a really large increase in the drive market out of the LA and Orange County areas for instance," CEO Allen Monroe said.
That demand led to a record year of nearly 3 million passengers traveling through Palm Springs International Airport, exceeding the 2019 record.
"We've gained a lot of great access from new audiences and destinations. And in the summer, we have even more direct flights year-round, which is something that has changed since 2019," Pace said.
Tourism now supports 24 percent of all jobs in the Valley, which is nearly one out of four.
"For me, it means more associates, more jobs, more work availability," Pagela said.
While employment directly supported by visitors rose 28 percent last year, rebounding to nearly 49,000 jobs, that's still about 3,400 jobs fewer than before the pandemic. "We definitely still have open positions but every month seems to get a little bit better," Pagela said.
Though employment growth continues to lag behind spending, College of the Desert is developing programs to prepare students for careers in tourism and hospitality.
But all that travel directly impacts Valley residents' quality of life, even if they do not work in the tourism industry. "We generated over $800 million in local and state taxes," Pace said. Last year, visitor spending, visitor-supported jobs, and business sales generated $1.3 billion in government revenues, which is more than $100 million higher than 2019, funding essential services for every Valley resident. "Across the Valley, it saves each household $5,000 just by the tourism taxes that are generated," Pace said.
Looking ahead, the agency hopes to grow the less than 3 percent of travelers coming from other countries with tourism offices overseas.
"We're in the UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Japan," Pace said. "What we know is that visitation from international has been the slowest to recover, so we know this is a priority and very important to our destination."
And while concerns of a softening economy continue to make headlines, Pace said: "The trend for this year so far is we are still gaining occupancy, growth, and average daily rate growth, which are all positive indicators for this year."
The $7.1 billion in visitor spending means that more than $19 million was spent every day by visitors in the Valley.