SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California's largest travel and tourism-related businesses agreed to continue the state's unique public-private partnership to promote tourism -- for at least another two years.

Some 1,400 companies that participate in the three-year old California Tourism Marketing Act recently voted by an 84% to 16% margin to extend the program, which includes an annual assessment to fund tourism promotion.

Under the act, firms in California with more than $1 million in annual sales derived from travel and tourism are assessed $450 for each $1 million in sales. The assessments go to marketing efforts conducted by the California Travel and Tourism Commission.

The vast majority of California travel agencies are exempt from the program: Only those agencies with more than $1 million annual sales and with more than 20% of their sales involving travel to or within the state participate.

The program raised $4.4 million in 1999 and about $5 million last year, according to a CTTC spokesman.

The funds are combined with the annual $7.3 million in state funds granted to the CTTC by the state legislature each year.

In a statement, Lon Hatamiya, secretary of California's Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency, said: "Passage of the referendum comes at a critical time for California as we are faced with a decline in long-haul travel and a struggling economy. The continued infusion of private sector funds ensured by this vote will allow us to respond to these challenges head on."

Some $5 million in funds will be used starting Nov. 14 when the CTTC kicks off an emergency advertising campaign directed at in-state travelers.

Funds that were to be used for a national advertising campaign in the spring were redirected to the in-state fall and winter campaign which involves television and radio advertising in major population centers in California.

The tourism marketing act was proposed by a Governor's Task Force on Tourism Funding in the early 1990s as the state began losing tourism to other states. The act was passed in 1997 and the first assessments took place in 1998.

The act required a vote to continue the program this year. Another vote to continue the program is scheduled to take place in 2003 and every two years thereafter.

The CTTC administers the tourism marketing program and a board comprised of 12 regional commissioners appointed by the governor and 24 commissions elected by industry peers in several categories -- restaurants, hotels, etc. -- directs the use of the funds.

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