Come on over! International visitation key to future tourism

If Mono County doesn’t grab the incoming wave of international tourists in the next decade or so, it will be stuck as it is now—a weekend and holiday destination for drive-up visitors from the Bay Area and Southern California.

If it does, it will have the opportunity to sharply increase the number of visitors that come on weekdays, during the shoulder season and—most critically—spend a lot of money while they are here, compared to domestic visitors, according to Mono County’s chief economic development manager, Alicia Vennos.

“International visitors account for 12 percent of the visits to California and they spend 20 percent of all the money spent by visitors,” she told the Board of Supervisors this week.

Take, for example, the Chinese, she said.

“The state travel and tourism commission, Visit California, expects 1.6 million Chinese a year to visit California by 2016,” Vennos said. “Do you know how much the Chinese visitor spends per person, per visit? Six thousand dollars. ”

There is no comparison, either, between how many more international visitors California is expecting in the next few years and the number of domestic visitors, she said.

“Domestic travel is expected to increase 1.8 percent to 2.5 percent in the next few years, as compared to the number of international visitors, which is expected to increase 5.7 percent,” she said.

To capture this growing market, Mono County cannot rely on the drive-up market, she said.

“We’re fortunate to have incredibly loyal visitors from the Bay Area and from Southern California,” she said. “But if we rely on just this market, which is almost entirely weekend and holiday visitors, we are vulnerable. Too many things—the weather, a bad snow year, gas prices—can change their plans at the last minute. We need to expand, and that means air service.”

The state tourism department has seen the light behind such numbers and is now spending half of its budget marketing just to international visitors, Vennos said.

“That’s a $23 million effort,” she said.

The international tourism marketing agency, Brand USA, spends all of its budget marketing to international travelers, mostly to Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, China, and South America, she said.