Point State Park seen from the river. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Tourism spending in Allegheny County rose nearly 4% in 2018 to $6.37 billion, according to the most recent data available, which the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development released to Pittsburgh officials last week.

For comparison, look at Pittsburgh sports. The Pittsburgh Pirates are worth about $1.3 billion, according to Forbes — which is what tourists spent in Pittsburgh in two months in 2018.

Transportation accounts for $1.9 billion of the 2018 spending total, a slight increase from the previous year, and recreation netted $1.3 billion, up 5% from 2017, says VisitPittsburgh Interim CEO Jerad Bachar.

The biggest jump came from federal tax revenue, which increased to $367.7 million, up nearly 7%, Bachar says.

The tourism industry in 2018 represented 43,080 jobs. To compare, about 53,000 people work locally for UPMC, Allegheny County’s largest employer. Tourism labor income was nearly $1.8 billion in 2018.

“We’ve shown year-over-year growth for nine years,” Bachar says. “We’re in a really strong upward trajectory.”

Bachar says his organization, which is the county’s official promotion agency, will continue to promote the region — and encourage spending — by marketing things like British Airways’ direct service to London at Pittsburgh International Airport. Bachar anticipates the proposed modernization of the Pittsburgh airport also will drum up more tourism.

In 2010, by comparison, tourists spent $4.8 billion in Allegheny County. In 2014, Business Insider ranked Pennsylvania 22nd in its list of most visited U.S. states, with California taking the top spot.

In recent years, the numbers have grown. In 2017, Pennsylvania welcomed 204 million visitors, creating a $43 billion economic impact that supports 500,000 jobs, says Michael Chapaloney, executive director of tourism for the state Department of Community & Economic Development.

A former news reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, Justin Vellucci currently freelances for a number of Pittsburgh publications and works as a staff writer for the music magazines PopMatters and Spectrum Culture. He has been contributing to NEXTpittsburgh since January 2020. He lives in Greenfield.