Valley travel industry shows signs of rebound as CA reopens economy

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- After visiting Las Vegas, New Yorkers Jarrett Adams and Brian Robinson decided to book a short stay at the Darling Hotel in Visalia this week.

"It felt like oh yeah, this is going to be a nice little place to kind of hang out, go see the national parks, still feel like we can have a nice meal, walk around a little bit, that type of thing," Adams said.

After months of working from home, Adams says it was finally time to take this trip. Many other Americans are choosing to do the same.

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Visit Visalia Executive Director Nellie Freeborn says there are a couple of reasons people are feeling comfortable traveling again-more vaccinations and fewer coronavirus restrictions.

In Visalia, she says hotel occupancy rates are strong again, and the demand is high for meetings and events.

"We're really expecting this summer is just absolutely going to be pretty busy," Freeborn said. "So all of our hotel owners, our stakeholders, our tourism and hospitality partners are just working hard to make sure that they can deliver on the service that people are expecting."

People staying home earlier in the pandemic took a major toll on California's massive tourism industry.

According to an economic impact report prepared for Visit California, the state saw a 55% decrease in travel spending from 2019 to 2020.

In the Central Valley, spending fell by nearly 49% and Tulare County saw an almost 46% drop.

But officials at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks say visitor volumes are returning to pre-pandemic levels.

"We don't have enough information yet to indicate whether this would be a record-breaking year or anything of that nature, but we're definitely on track to have another really busy summer," Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Public Affairs Specialist Rebecca Paterson said.

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Paterson says visitors can avoid crowds by visiting during non-peak hours.

Face coverings will be required in some indoor spaces, such as the Crystal Cave and shuttle buses.

Adams and Robinson spent all day Monday exploring Sequoia and on Tuesday, took off for their next destination -- Los Angeles.

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Because they're vaccinated, they know they're protected and have been able to enjoy their travels.

"I think we're also social beings, and so once we're back in the element, it comes quickly to us to be comfortable in that environment," he explained.

If you're traveling this summer, Visit Visalia says to be patient with businesses as they ramp up operations after a tough year.

If you're looking to avoid crowds, but still enjoy the area's natural beauty, you may want to consider the Sequoia National Forest.
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