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Pandemic hits San Diego tourism with $6 billion loss in visitor spending

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Posted at 3:02 PM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-13 21:02:01-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – With 70 miles of coastline and perfect weather year-round it’s no surprise tourism is a key sector of San Diego’s economy. But thanks to coronavirus, the city reports visitor spending dropped by more than $6 billion from 2019 to 2020.

Hotel reservations were canceled, planes were grounded, and cruise ships were tethered to dry land. Massive layoffs in aviation caused tends of thousands to lose their jobs. United Airlines flight attendant Dante Harris was no exception.

“What was going through my mind as a 21-year flight attendant was, ‘how was this possible?’” said Harris.

With constantly changing guidelines and limited job security Harris says the toll on his mental health hit hard.

“Trying to enforce the mask rule, that was one of the biggest issues that our flight attendants have been faced with,” said Harris. “And the fear of getting the COVID-19 virus.”

According to a 2021 SANDAG report:

  • 90% of job losses in our region came from tourism, education, and retail
  • There was a 90% decrease in international air travel
  • 75% of cruise ship stops were canceled from our port

Thanks to federal relief programs like PSP and the American Rescue Plan, Harris and many others eventually got their jobs back.

While his time in there is an experience he’d never trade, aviation’s first responders still need your help.

“Say hello when you get on the flight to set the tone,” said Harris. “When we’re in the air at 35,00 feet we’re all in this together.”

He’s hoping a little more kindness and a lot more vaccine will get tourism back to thriving and visitors back to exploring America’s Finest City.

“I think travel is going to rebound in a big way,” said Harris. “I don’t think it’s going to be fully what it was pre-COVID-19 but I think we’re headed that way. Forget the politics, forget everything else. Take care of each other.”

The San Diego Tourism Authority says the visitor industry lost 20 years of economic gain in 2020. They say it will take about five years to recover.