With one COVID vaccine dose, Californians can win trips



On the eve of California’s vast reopening, the state offered some big-ticket items to encourage more residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced six dream vacation packages as part of the state’s Vax for the Win incentive program in an effort to keep building momentum for vaccination efforts.

Californians 18 and older who have received at least one dose of the COVID1-9 vaccine will have a chance to win one of six getaways in the Golden State during a drawing July 1. Eligible Californians are automatically entered in the lottery.

Among the destinations are seeing the Giants play in San Francisco, enjoying a spa in Palm Springs, visiting Disneyland in Anaheim, enjoying floor seats at a Lakers game in Los Angeles and learning how to surf in San Diego.

Packages include hotels, food and entertainment for up to four people. Winners will also receive $2,000 for expenses.

The latest incentives are part of what appears to be the largest inoculation incentive in the nation: the chance for 10 residents to win $1.5 million apiece as well as 30 additional awards of $50,000 each. The $50,000 drawings have already been held; the $1.5-million drawings will take place Tuesday.

The vacation prize announcement comes a day before California lifts its coronavirus-related capacity restrictions and physical distancing requirements at almost all institutions. Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will also be able to remove their face masks in most nonwork situations.

Newsom said the incentive program has already reaped benefits. There has been a 14% increase in administered vaccine doses since it launched May 27.

As of Monday, 56.3% of Californians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to The Times’ vaccination tracker. Of that group, 47.1% are fully vaccinated with both doses of either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Newsom acknowledged that more needs to be done to protect the state against potential new surges and variants before the pandemic is officially gone.

“It’s been a tough and challenging year — fear, anxiety, that all of you have worked through is not lost on any of us,” Newsom said Monday during a news conference in San Francisco.

“We recognize … our responsibility not just to be here today and tomorrow, but as we recover as a state, mindful about the disparities that persist in the state, mindful of our responsibility to support our small businesses and get our hospitality and tourism industry back on its feet.”

Hospitality partners, including Visit California, the state’s nonprofit tourism agency, will be offsetting the cost for the incentive vacations. The state will provide the additional cash for travel.

Newsom said an electronic version of a paper vaccination card will soon be available, though it won’t be a “passport” or a requirement.

Besides encouraging vaccinations, the vacation packages are also an effort to boost tourism in the state.

Now is the time to check off items on your California bucket list, said Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive of Visit California.

“The [tourism] industry is ready to roll out the red carpet to prospective visitors in California, around the nation and even the world,” she said during the news conference.

Prior to the pandemic, travel spending in the state saw a steady increase, beginning in 2010 until it reached its peak with visitors spending $145 billion in 2019, according to data collected by Visit California.

Beteta said the pandemic took a “sledgehammer” to the tourism industry, decimating more than 55% of spending — a decrease of $79 billion in 2020. She estimated it will take about four years for the state to return to its 2019 gains.

“California is perceived to be less destination-ready than the rest of the United States — in particular, our friends in Florida,” she said. “Americans see Florida as being more open than California, and that’s the hard work we have to do, but again, that’s because this governor kept us safe. And now it’s time to come open, accelerate the recovery curve but with the lessons learned.”

To promote in-state travel, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis helped launch the marketing campaign “Visit Florida” in September. According to data compiled by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, the Sunshine State saw a decrease of 34% in visitors between January 2020 and September, and hotel revenue declined over $6.5 billion last year.

Despite lagging behind other states, California will bounce back fast and strong, Carl Winston predicted. The director of hospitality and tourism at San Diego State said residents in nearby states are more likely to feel safer taking a short plane trip to California than a five-hour flight to Hawaii.

“There’s ample history California is going to do better than most places,” he said. “We’re a drive market. If you live in Vegas, it’s 115 degrees. Where are you headed? The coast. We always recover faster than Hawaii or the Caribbean because of geographic proximity.”



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