Tourists expected to return to Golden State

California tourism expected to increaseClean up the beaches. Sweep Disneyland's Main Street (is it ever dirty?). Polish the Golden Gate Bridge. Tourists are on their way back to California.

After a disappointing tourist count last year, visitors have the Golden State in their sights once again. California's tourism officials predict that the state will see a nearly 3% rise in tourists this year and a 4% bump in 2011. Even better, those tourists are expected to spend 5% more this year than last. Seems like consumer confidence really is on the rise.

"We had a tough year last year," says Kathryn Burnside, spokeswoman for the California Travel & Tourism Commission. Visitor spending in the state was down 10%. This is the year the state expects to get "out of the hole," Burnside said. "We're already seeing positive growth."

There are reasons the travel bug has suddenly bit. Pent-up demand from tourists who cut back on travel due to the recession, for one thing. And improved confidence in the economy, for another, says Burnside.

A large share of expected visitors to California will come from abroad, especially Australia and China, according to tourism officials. South Koreans can take advantage of a U.S. program that allows them to visit this country for up to 90 days without a visa, tourism officials say.

Where will this wave of tourists go? If they're from overseas, their No. 1 destination will be Los Angeles, followed by San Francisco. In a boon to U.S. tourism, international visitors tend to stay longer than domestic ones, spend more and visit during off-peak seasons, Burnside says. L.A. is the top vacation spot for domestic tourists, too, followed by San Diego, San Francisco and Anaheim (home to Disneyland).

To kick off the travel season, California's tourism commission, in partnership with Southwest Airlines, recently unveiled California --The Game, an online board game that offers a number of prizes. The virtual game comes with a spinner and token to move around the board, stopping along the way at California destinations and attractions. Players come across "Excursions," where they solve challenges, and "Pitstops," where they enjoy "California moments." The more challenges you get right, the more entries you earn.

The game continues through June 27. Southwest will give away a pair of round-trip plane tickets each week during the first seven weeks of the game; two grand prizes -- a Southern California family getaway and Northern California wine country getaway -- will be announced in mid-July.

Who can resist that?
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