Mike Gallagher, the vice chairman of the California Travel and Tourism Commission and co-CEO of CityPass, was recently awarded the Hall of Fame Lifetime Contribution in Tourism Award. The honor came from the Pacific Area Travel Writers Association International. CityPass provides reduced admissions to attractions in various cities, including San Francisco.
How does it feel to be honored with the award?
It feels great, but I don’t think I’m old enough. I have been in the tourism business for nearly 40 years, and it’s nice to be recognized, but I still have plenty of lifetime left.
Where did your love of tourism and its related fields come from?
My first job was as a boat deckhand at Sea World San Diego. I got the bug from there. I think the attractions business is the best one to be in. It’s wonderful to watch families coming and interacting together. It definitely brings families together.
What is your first memory of going to a theme park?
Disneyland back in 1959. I grew up in Illinois until I was 7 years old. We watched the park being built on the television, so Disneyland was the first place I wanted to go when we got off the plane in California.
Why is California the leading tourism state in the U.S.?
Because of our size. It’s at the end of the line — this is where everyone stops. Everyone really wants to come to California, and we’ve got a marketing program that is effectively taking advantage of what we have to offer. People don’t just come once. They can come to California numerous times because there are so many places to go see, like the Sierras, San Diego and Yosemite.
What book or piece of writing has inspired you?
Well, my favorite movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life” because it’s appreciating what you do have versus what you don’t have. I like historical books on the presidents — like Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington — and how they thought differently.
Where do you get your motivation from?
When you have a business, you are motivated every day to make it grow, and if you have a wife and three kids, then you want to be successful for them. … I realized early on from my time at Sea World that there are so many things pulling families apart in different directions — TV, for instance. Travel makes you all sit down together to plan and even eat meals together. Americans get two weeks’ holiday a year, but only 14 percent take advantage of a full 14 days off together.
What have you personally done for tourism in California?
My volunteer position at the CTTC does help people in their day-to-day lives — it helps people work. More businesses thrive and jobs are created when we bring in tourism. Sometimes the tourist industry has a bad reputation as being low-level jobs, but this isn’t true. Many people may have started out as busboys in restaurants, but now they run or own their own restaurants. The industry promotes from within if you work hard.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Firstly, my wife and kids. I have been married for 35 years. Secondly, my business, CityPass Inc.