California Governor Gavin Newsom climbed atop the Golden Gate Bridge to tout the supposedly record-breaking $150 billion tourism dollars spent statewide in 2023, but cynics point out that may just be because of inflation-driven higher prices.

Yes, Governor Gavin Newsom is standing on top of one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge in the video below posted Sunday morning. “So I’m up here on the Golden Gate Bridge,” Newsom said from on high, with the scenery of Presidio and Sutro Tower visible behind him. “What a perfect place to announce our record-breaking tourism numbers. Last year, $150 billion of investment, tourists around the globe coming to the great state of California.”


Newsom is technically correct that the tourism agency Visit California had just announced that the state enjoyed a record $150.4 billion in travel spending for 2023, which does indeed break 2019’s pre-pandemic record year of  $144.9 billion. But those are statewide numbers, and KPIX points out that Bay Area tourism spending is still down compared to 2019 levels; with $37.7 billion in tourism spending here last year, whereas 2019’s total was $39 billion.

"We're just waiting for the tourists to come and for the season to really get going," Pier 23 Cafe owner Mac Leibert told KPIX Sunday. "And as you can see on a Sunday afternoon brunch, it's not happening."

KPIX also spoke to bus tour guides and pedicab drivers, who echoed the same sentiment. They sound a common note that the local convention and business conference markets have not rebounded, and the level of tourism from Chinese visitors is still at only about half the volume it was pre-pandemic. Prior to COVID, the Chinese tourist demographic was the No. 1 driver of SF tourism revenue.

And KTVU adds a little more skepticism to Newsom’s numbers, noting that the higher dollar amounts for 2023 may be solely because of inflation. “Things cost more last year than they did four years ago,” that station notes, and adds that the Visit California report “says that adjusting for inflation, travel spending in California is actually down 14% from its peak in 2019.”

There is one undisputed silver lining, though, in that the report also notes that 98% of the tourism- and hospitality-related jobs in the state have returned since the tourism job losses of recent years.

Related: SF Tourism Board Launches New Ad Campaign to Sell City as Still Quirky and Fun [SFNews]

Image: @CAgovernor via Twitter