Previous: The early years, 1992-2000
By 2000, the California Travel and Tourism Commission was charging full-speed ahead and already changing the landscape of Golden State tourism.
Travel spending, tourism tax revenue and employment had reached all-time highs. And with a then-record investment from the state’s travel and tourism industry, the CTTC continued to rapidly scale up globally and set sights on bigger dreams.
But at the turn of the millennium, those gains were tested in unimaginable ways.
The Western U.S. Energy Crisis of 2000 brought rolling blackouts and an 800 percent increase in energy prices in California. As the state weathered the storm, the CTTC partnered with local agencies to craft proactive in-state messaging supporting residents while continuing to welcome travelers.
Still, the crisis was a mere fraction of what was to come.
Less than a year later, 9/11 shook the nation to its core. Following the biggest and most destructive act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil, a grieving nation struggled to make sense of the new world.
In the wake of the attacks and peaking security and travel concerns, tourism plummeted by more than 50 percent.
Meanwhile, with the state facing a $34 billion budget deficit, and the California Division of Tourism — along with its $7.3 million in matching funds — was eliminated. California dropped from 14th to 31st in the nation in overall state spending to promote tourism, becoming the only state in the nation not investing public funds to grow its tourism economy — though still the largest in the country.
Find Yourself Here
As the state of the nation and California’s financial struggles threatened to undo much of the progress made, Gov. Gray Davis went to bat for the industry, scraping together $7 million to help power a post-9/11, in-state branding campaign: “California: Find Yourself Here.”
The campaign, distributed for the first time via print, radio and broadcast media, projected an inspirational message that California is still a place of hope — a message residents and visitors alike needed more than ever.
By coincidence, the week of 9/11 was the same week of the second CTTC referendum, and ballots were in the mail when the attack occurred. Even in such a dark hour, California’s travel industry rallied, banding together to pass the referendum with 84 percent approval and growing the organization’s budget to $12 million.
After two years of setbacks, the organization’s efforts began to pay off, and by 2003, visitor spending in the state had grown to more than $80 million. The same year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in, immediately becoming a close ally of California’s tourism industry.
Schwarzenegger believed the greatest potential gains for the state lived in entertainment and tourism, and he quickly partnered with the CTTC to grow the industry — and, along with it, revenue for the state.
The CTTC leveraged the Governor’s appearance in a new in-state TV spot, “Welcome to California,” and he quickly become a vital and unprecedented California brand ambassador, traversing international markets to share the California Dream.
“California is the greatest travel destination in the world and I love selling our state to potential tourists across the globe,” Schwarzenegger said in 2006.
By 2006, California met its domestic market share goals — five years ahead of schedule.
Since 1992 when the CTTC was first imagined, travel spending had more than doubled — to over $97 billion annually. And during that period, California's tourism industry added more than 252 thousand jobs.
The same year, the CTTC launched California’s first national cable advertising campaign, featuring the governor, First Lady Maria Shriver, Clint Eastwood and other famous Californians. The star-studded approach to telling the state’s tourism story, coupled with messaging shaped by authentic California experiences, became a hallmark of the organization’s brand campaign — one that continues today.
The national campaign proved to be an auspice of even bigger developments.
Later that year, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed AB 2592. The landmark bill created an assessment program for the passenger rental car industry that spiked the statewide promotion marketing budget to an unprecedented $50 million.
The immediate results were undeniable: California’s travel industry now had the firepower to compete on the global stage.
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