San Diego's Tourism Industry Has Long Road To Recovery, With Latinx Workers Hurting Most
Prior to the pandemic, San Diego’s tourism industry was the second-largest employer in the region and responsible for about 200,000 jobs.
Since COVID-19 arrived in early 2020, the number has dropped by 70,000. That's roughly 37% of all job losses in the region, according to a SANDAG report.
Among Latinx workers who lost their jobs, half worked in the tourism sector, according to the report.
“I was so busy working and I had a very good income. And then to nothing, it was just very scary for me,” said Orfa Ortiz, a banquet waiter in San Diego.
Ortiz is a single mother of two who worked for seven different hospitality companies in San Diego. When the pandemic hit, all her income streams were cut and she applied for unemployment. Now she says even that income is unreliable.
“So it’s very stressful. I’m going through a hard time. It just kind of went down on steps,” she said. “Losing my jobs, losing my apartment, losing now my unemployment, working little hours here and there, trying to look for a babysitter, it’s very overwhelming.”
Brigette Browning, president of UNITE HERE Local 30, a labor union for hotel and hospitality workers, said the unemployment system is also making it harder for people to return to work.
“If you go back to work and you get partial hours, it can block you from unemployment, but the employers don't have consistent business to offer you 40 hours of work," Browning said. "So the system itself is incentivizing people not to come back for those part-time hours that might be available."
While the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is allowing the economy to gradually reopen, a recent Tourism Authority report for the region predicts tourism will not fully return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
“Even if business comes back to 2019 levels I don't believe employment will come back to 2019 levels ever,” Browning said. “They’re going to cut back on amenities that they feel the guests don't care very much about, which means there will be significantly less jobs.”
Ortiz has started some work again and is trying to be optimistic.
“I’m really hoping in my heart that next year we go back a little bit more to normal and I can see myself working again,'" she said. "Maybe not the seven jobs, but working at least five."
According to the Tourism Authority report, total visitation in the county is expected to grow 74% this year compared to 2020.