Tourism matters. It is vital to our economy, creates jobs and generates badly needed tax revenue that helps provide basic services our community needs. L.A.’s unique, beautiful and endlessly entertaining city drew in a record 41.4 million total visitors last year, and we forecast that will grow to 42 million this year.

But make no mistake. The world is nipping at our heels. We must work relentlessly and invest in ensuring that Los Angeles has the very best to offer.

As the economic recovery struggles to create jobs, tourism remains a bright spot – visitors to Los Angeles spent $16.5 billion in 2012, resulting in $30.5 billion in economic benefit. Tourism led nearly every sector, creating 10,000 jobs and supporting 324,000 total jobs in Los Angeles County. The hotel room tax contributed $158 million to the city’s general fund. That is equivalent to the cost of 1,702 police officers or 1,192 firefighters or 450 miles of street paving.

If we make the necessary investments, Los Angeles can reach 50 million visitors by 2020. That would mean $44.5 billion in economic impact, a $14 billion increase over today’s impact; $635 million in hotel tax revenue to the city, a $213 million increase; and 392,000 jobs directly supported by tourism in the county, 68,000 more than we have today.

We need to focus like a laser on China, attract new and bigger hotels, continue to invest in infrastructure and ramp up our level of service.

China is now the driving force behind the growth of tourism. In what is truly one of the world’s success stories, the Chinese people are enjoying an unprecedented increase in standard of living, enabling an exponential growth in their travel.

Los Angeles is one of their top destinations. We have built a uniquely strong relationship with China, and we cannot afford to lose the opportunities that it presents.

I took part in a rare face-to-face meeting May 28 with China’s President Xi Jinping, together with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as part of the L.A. trade mission. The president, the mayor and I discussed the strong bonds of trust, friendship and business partnership that have developed between Los Angeles and China. Xi referred to Los Angeles as the “epicenter” of the U.S.-China relationship.

Xi told me he felt that tourism was absolutely crucial to the future of his nation. He laid out his vision of the central role that tourism plays both for developing economic strength and for building friendships across the world.

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