LAX passenger volume reaches 14-year high as Los Angeles tourism surges

LAX and the Los Angeles tourist industry recover from the worst recession since World War II.

Local tourism in 2014 set its fourth record in as many years, city officials announced Tuesday, and Los Angeles International Airport exceeded its 14-year-old peak for airline travel and is now the nation's second-busiest airport.

The airport handled more than 70 million passengers last year, far surpassing a record of 67.3 million travelers set in 2000, according to economic data released at a news conference at LAX.

The number of visitors to L.A. rose to 43.4 million, a significant gain over previous years including 2009 when visitors dropped to 34.4 million during the recession. And even more travelers are expected in the year ahead.

“The city has set a goal of 50 million visitors a year; we are well on our way to meet that goal," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "This means billions of dollars injected into our economy. Los Angeles is serious about being the destination for people to visit in the US.”

The increase in tourism is reflected in the city's hotel occupancy rates, which rose from the previous record of 75.1% in 2006 to about 79% last year.

Tourism in Los Angeles supported an estimated 442,000 jobs across the region and generated $184.4 million in hotel taxes for Los Angeles during fiscal 2013-14, officials said.

At LAX, which was hit hard when travel declined after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the recession, the number of airline passengers had plummeted roughly 18% to about 55 million by 2003. After a tepid recovery, the economic downturn reduced the volume to 56.5 million.

The West Coast gateway recovered more slowly than many other major commercial airports due to the deeper effects of the economic downturn, changing travel patterns and natural disasters overseas, most notably Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Still, by 2013, LAX handled a record 17.8 million international travelers, exceeding a previous record of 17.5 million in 2005. If last month’s passenger counts follow the trends of earlier months, the number of international travelers passing through LAX could total almost 19 million for 2014.

Jerry Nickelsburg, an economics professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, attributed the increase in tourism and air travel to a steadily improving economy, the state’s population growth, more visitors from China and a thriving L.A. tech industry that has helped spark a surge in business travel.

Nickelsburg, who participates in the Anderson School’s economic forecasts, expects the trends to continue. The U.S. economy, he noted, is forecast to grow 3% this year and household incomes will increase. Along with lower gas prices, that will make vacations more affordable.

“If you live in the Midwest, you might say, ‘Let’s drive to Disneyland or L.A.,’ “ Nickelsburg said. “All this bodes well for the California tourism industry.”

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