Consumer trends paint positive picture for Santa Barbara County as cities prepare to welcome back tourists
Restaurants and retail in Santa Barbara County are reopening under stage two of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan for the state, and as they do, cities from Carpinteria to Solvang are making plans to bring back the region’s most vital industry: Tourism.
Santa Barbara County is now officially in the latter half of stage two, where hotels only open for essential travelers, and must wait to move into stage three to invite leisure travelers to the area.
Nevertheless, organizations like Visit Santa Barbara and the Carpinteria Chamber of Commerce have been laying the groundwork for when tourists are able to visit the county once again.
After encouraging locals to return to restaurants and retail while practicing social distancing, Visit Santa Barbara is preparing messaging about why Santa Barbara is a compelling travel destination.
“Visit Santa Barbara has been finalizing our marketing plan for the South Coast’s reopening so that it’s ready to roll out when stay-at-home measures are lifted,” said Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara.
“Since financial resources are tight, digital advertising and marketing channels will be focal points of the campaign,” she said. “We’ll be featuring beautiful, compelling images and messages that inspire travel, by showcasing travelers’ interests and balancing the sensitivities of the moment.”
By keeping up with weekly national traveler sentiment surveys, Visit Santa Barbara is preparing for travelers seeking coastal destinations like Santa Barbara that offer a lot of space and ample room for social distancing, Ms. Janega-Dykes told the News-Press.
“In the initial months when fear and uncertainty are still prevalent, they’ll also be staying closer to home and taking more road trips. So, it makes sense to position Santa Barbara as a great outdoor escape for people in drive markets who desperately need a change of scenery,” said Ms. Janega-Dykes.
“Surveys also show that travelers will be receptive to destinations they already have familiarity and positive associations with. Californians already have awareness, interest and an affinity for Santa Barbara, which will create a sense of security.”
As a community heavily reliant on tourism, Santa Barbara has its work cut out getting the industry up and running after two months of heavy losses.
According to Ms. Janega-Dykes, about 20% of South Coast hotels have closed temporarily, and for those that remain open, occupancy, rates and revenue have plummeted. Massive furloughs and layoffs in the restaurant and retail sector have also been the norm, not only harming businesses, but also city and county tax revenues.
The city of Santa Barbara recently reported that the TOT taxes collected for April, just over $110,000, was a 93% decrease compared to the same time period last year.
In Solvang, the city has seen its tax revenue drop by $500,000 per month as tourism has ceased.
The task of marketing Solvang’s tourism as the city reopens has fallen to IDK Events, a San Francisco based event production company contracted by the city in January after its success with Julefest 2020.
Like Visit Santa Barbara, IDK Events is not aggressively marketing to tourists yet, but is keeping a close eye on consumer sentiment in preparation for a marketing campaign directed at Californians close to the area.
“They want to focus on road trips, they want to focus on areas that are smaller that they consider safe, so if you look at a Venn diagram there’s a lot of overlap with Solvang. We’re really excited and feel positive that Solvang is going to benefit from this change in the short-term in tourism sentiment,” said Scott Shuemake, president of IDK Events.
IDK Events’ initial marketing will be focused on areas within 300 miles, including residents in the Santa Ynez Valley within 30 minutes of Solvang.
“We really want folks to re-experience their backyard. That’s the tone of our initial marketing once tourism is allowed,” said Mr. Shuemake.
In Carpinteria, while businesses are eager to welcome back customers both locally and from out of town, the city is focusing on educating retail and restaurants on safe practices and distributing financial aid rather than preparing a marketing strategy for tourism.
“We don’t really advertise. People just come because they love this coastal beach community because of its quantness and the small unique businesses that we have here. We know that once it is completely safe to welcome visitors that visitors will come. We get a lot of phone calls about people wanting to know when we are going to safely reopen our hotels and vacation rentals,” said Joyce Donaldson, President and CEO of the Carpinteria Chamber of Commerce.
“Of course we will welcome them with open arms when it’s safe.”
While it is likely to take multiple years for a full recovery, those tasked with fostering Santa Barbara County’s tourism remain optimistic that travelers will return, as long as the region maintains its relatively low number of COVID-19 cases. In light of consumer sentiment reports, the county seems well placed to take advantage of a day tripping and drivable tourism trend.
“In the past, the hospitality industry has proven to be one of the most resilient sectors to rebound from economic disaster. That may be in part because of the basic human needs that are fulfilled by travel—to dream, discover, to be inspired and restored, and to connect with loved ones,” said Ms. Janega-Dykes.
“It’s going to be our privilege to contribute to get Santa Barbara back on its feet and see our hospitality workers get back to doing the jobs they love — helping visitors create moments of transformation and connection.”