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Los Angeles County hosts a record 50 million visitors in 2018

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA DECEMBER 19, 2018-People ride in a tourist van outside the Bijan store alo
A tourist van makes its way along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Marking the eighth year in a row of tourism growth, Los Angeles County hosted an estimated 50 million visitors in 2018, reaching a target two years ahead of schedule.

The tourism record represents a 3.1% improvement over 2017’s total of 48.5 million visitors, fueled by a slightly higher increase in international tourists — despite fears that President Trump’s travel ban and anti-immigration statements would scare them away.

The number of international visitors climbed 3.6% in 2018 over the previous year while the number of domestic visitors rose 3%, according to tourism officials.

The increase in Los Angeles County reflects tourism trends throughout the country.

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The U.S. Travel Assn. last week reported a 3.8% rise in international visitors in November compared with the same month in 2017, with domestic travel rising 3% in the same period.

But the trade group predicts a drop in foreign visitors in the next few months because of rising trade tensions, slowing economic growth in countries that generate travel to the U.S. — such as China — and the rising value of the dollar compared with other currencies.

The group also worries that the government shutdown will further hurt the travel industry because it means fewer federal employees will be traveling for work.

“It is now plainly evident that the shutdown is affecting air travel, and when that happens, damage to the overall U.S. economy will shortly follow,” the group’s executive vice president of public affairs, Jonathan Grella, said in a statement Wednesday.

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New York City on Wednesday announced a 3.8% increase to 65.2 million visitors in 2018, with a 3% increase in the number of international visitors over 2017, according to NYC & Co., the city’s tourism agency.

In Los Angeles, visitors from China set an all-time high of 1.2 million, a 6.9% increase from the previous year, making Los Angeles County the top-ranked U.S. city for Chinese travelers.

After a slight decline in 2017, the number of visitors from Mexico also reached a record, with 1.8 million guests, a 4% increase, according to the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.

The number of visitors from Canada, Britain, Japan, Scandinavia and India also recorded substantial increases in 2018. In all, 7.5 million international travelers and 42.5 million domestic travelers came to Los Angeles last year.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s top tourism officials noted they had reached 50 million visitors two years ahead of the target date of 2020, a goal set by Garcetti and tourism leaders in Los Angeles.

“Surpassing 50 million annual visitors two years ahead of schedule,” the mayor said in a statement, “is the latest milestone in our ongoing work to bring Los Angeles to the world, and the world to Los Angeles.”

The preliminary estimates were announced Wednesday at a news conference at L.A. Live. Final, more precise numbers, will be released in May. The tourism estimate and the final numbers are generated by an economics forecasting firm based on the number of hotel stays, airline seats filled on flights in and out of Los Angeles International Airport and credit card spending data, among other information.

In response to President Trump’s anti-immigration statements and efforts to ban travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, the U.S. Travel Assn. formed a coalition with other U.S. industries and travel groups called Visit the USA.

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In Los Angeles, Garcetti and other tourism officials created their own campaign to send a message of welcome to tourists, especially from Mexico and largely Muslim countries.

The campaign featured a music video that appeared on social media sites in Canada, China, Mexico, Britain and Australia.

The tourism industry represents one of the largest employers in Los Angeles County, with more than 500,000 jobs supported by the leisure and hospitality industries.

Economists estimated last year that tourists in Los Angeles County were responsible for $22.7 billion in direct spending, with an overall economic impact of $34.9 billion when calculating the ripple effect on purchases of other goods and services.


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