On Monday, November 8, the state’s tourism and travel industry leaders will begin rebuilding a $ 28 billion annual business segment that has been lost in the pandemic.

On this day, international travel restrictions to the United States will be lifted, allowing fully vaccinated people to fly into the country and cross borders if coming from Mexico or Canada. The Biden administration announced this on September 20th.

“This long-awaited date is critical to the continued recovery of California,” said Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California, in an October 21 statement. “International travelers are very valuable customers who often travel off-peak and plan trips well in advance.”

Visit California hopes to attract visitors from Canada, Mexico and the UK first, followed by Germany and France, said Beteta, who runs the nonprofit that is tasked with promoting national and international visits to the state.

“Many parts of the state cannot fully recover until international travel returns,” Beteta said. “Gateway cities are particularly dependent – for example, 59% of travel spending in San Francisco prior to the pandemic was made by international visitors.”

Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, said the county relies largely on international visitors flying to San Francisco.

“We benefit from the interest in San Francisco and especially when the people come from there to the Wine Country,” said Vecchio, describing the city as a global gateway. “This is how we reach the majority of our visitors.”

However, the return of international visitors will not be quick as flights are returning gradually, she noted.

International spending in Sonoma County accounted for about 10 to 15% of total visits in 2019, Vecchio said.

The spending of international tourists can hardly be extrapolated, said Vecchio. One of the resources their agency uses comes from VisaVue, a research firm that reports international spending from visitors using Visa cards to travel to California. There are no companies that deduct such expenses from other cards like MasterCard or American Express, she said.

Based on VisaVue research alone, international travelers spent approximately $ 16 million in Sonoma County in 2019. Most of that spending came from Canada ($ 4.5 million), followed by the UK ($ 1.5 million) and China ($ 1 million), she said.

Sonoma County Tourism will resume its international marketing efforts earlier this year, Vecchio said, starting with the UK, Germany and Australia – the markets that historically have grossed the most dollars in Sonoma County’s economy.

Linsey Gallagher, President and CEO of Visit Napa Valley, said that prior to the pandemic, 19.2% of visitors to the area were from international markets.

Beteta has stated that international tourism is California’s largest export and that the return of visitors from around the world would change the state’s economic recovery.

International tourism is also big business nationwide. Prior to the September 20 announcement, the country was forecast to lose $ 175 billion in export revenue from international visitors this year, according to the US Travel Association. Following the news, President and CEO Roger Dow described the decision as a major turning point in dealing with the virus.

Joe D’Alessandro, President and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, wrote in an email to the Business Journal: “Pre-COVID, international visitors made up about 25% of overnight guests, but they made up over 60% of all overnight guests from expenses . “

He continued, “International visitors to the Bay Area tend to stay longer and spend more, so their return is critical to San Francisco’s economic recovery.” The association represents more than 1,300 companies in and around San Francisco.

Like Vecchio, D’Alessandro stated that the return of international flights will not come overnight.

Under the new federal policy, fully vaccinated travelers must have a negative COVID-19 test within three days of the flight, and unvaccinated Americans traveling from abroad must have a day before returning to the state and again after returning be tested come home.

Prior to the September 20 announcement, Visit California had forecast that it would take another three years for tourism income to return to pre-pandemic levels. This forecast was based largely on the shortage of international travelers.

Whether or not the industry’s economic recovery could come sooner remains to be seen, especially given the ongoing pandemic, according to a travel research firm that tracks the industry across the country.

“If all goes well, I think that by the end of next year we should have a really good grasp of how the economic side of the crisis will affect the tourism industry,” said David Bratton, founder and general manager of the San Die Francisco-based company Destination Analysts shared the Business Journal after news broke that international travel is resuming.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, healthcare, and education. She previously worked for a gannett newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state business magazine. Cheryl has worked for business magazines in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University at Northridge. You can reach them at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.