Tulare County tourism industry takes hit, but could recover faster than rest of state

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- It remains to be seen just how much Tulare County's tourism industry will suffer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But local experts believe the worst has already passed.

"April, we believe, was the bottom of the entire industry to include our destination," said Nellie Freeborn, the executive director of Visit Visalia. "For the state of California, I think they came in at about 26% occupancy in the month of April, significantly down from the prior year. And for our destination, we averaged about 30% occupancy in the month of April, and that was about a 50% slide from prior year."

Tulare County saw more than half a billion dollars in travel-related spending in 2019, a ten-year high, according to a report issued by Visit California, the state's tourism group.

That includes money spent on food, accommodations, gas, retail, and more.

But that number is expected to fall significantly in 2020, as far fewer people travel for business and leisure due to COVID-19.

Luckily, the tourism industry is resilient, and Tulare County's Michael Washam thinks the region can recover faster because its most popular destinations are outdoors.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks started to reopen to visitors last week.

"We really don't have those amusement parks or cruises or sporting events, concerts, those type of high-density venues that are probably going to take a little bit longer to recover," Washam said. "What we have is our national parks and our national forests where just by your activity, you're in social distancing, so to speak."

Visit Visalia recently reopened their office.

While they don't expect to see international visitors returning to the area right away, they're starting to see more interest in people from across the state looking for a road trip getaway.

They say they're here to help when you decide the right time for a trip to Tulare County.

"It's the best resource and it also is helpful because it can set your expectations," Freeborn said. "It can help you in your planning."
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