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FACT CHECK: Gavin Newsom claims record tourism, but actually it is down 14%

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California Governor Gavin Newsom took to the top of Golden Gate Bridge to share the claim that California had hit an “unprecedented” tourism spending record. The facts? After inflation, tourism is down 14% from 2019.

The false claim was shared by trusted news organizations such as CBS and the San Francisco Chronicle.

“So I’m up here on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, a testament to America’s greatness, California’s greatness, and we couldn’t be more proud to announce today record breaking tourism numbers in the state of California, over $150 billion of tourism spent, unprecedented in our state’s history,” said Newsom in a video atop the windy bridge.

In his press release with Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta, Newsom claimed tourism spending was up 5.6% in 2023 over 2022, a figure that is a 3.8% increase from peak 2019 levels. However, the Visit California report featured in the release and cited by Newsom says those figures are not adjusted for inflation, which has been approximately 19% since 2019.

“Direct travel spending in 2023 increased 5.6% in current dollars,” confirmed the report. “Adjusted for inflation, travel spending in 2023 was down 14% from the peak (in 2019).”

The report says since 2019 there’s been a 3% increase in travel-related tax revenues and a 13.1% increase in travel industry earnings — but in non-inflation adjusted dollars. This means real tourism-related tax revenues are down about 16%, and real earnings for tourism-related workers are down about 6%. Falling revenues have, in part, fueled California’s projected $73 billion deficit for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

“It’s obvious Newsom is using the same faulty ‘math’ that caused California’s budget crisis. Let’s face it: Those numbers don’t add up,” said State Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, to The Center Square. “Senate District One relies heavily on tourism and I’m certain the businesses aren’t faring as well as he claims. It’s another bogus claim to deceive voters into thinking he’s actually doing a good job.”

While real spending, tax revenue, and wages are down significantly, tourism-related jobs are back to 98% of 2019 peak levels, suggesting that while demand for California travel is there, travelers — and businesses — are doing what they can to cut costs.

“At the end of the day, inflation is inflation, so these numbers don’t come out as glossy as our state ladders would like them to,” said National Federation of Independent Business California Director John Kabateck to The Center Square. “But we do hope the governor and legislature will help California turn a corner and make us more business and tourist friendly.”

Newsom’s office did not respond to The Center Square by the time of publication.