Visit Santa Barbara delivers promising news at its annual summit
Despite a rough start, 2023 will be a good year for the local tourism industry.
That was the message at Visit Santa Barbara’s annual Tourism Summit Thursday at the Cabrillo Pavilion.
Visit Santa Barbara invited local businesses to hear timely insights and updates across marketing, sales and community partnerships, as they work to promote Santa Barbara.
Success this year won’t come easy, said Kathy Janega-Dykes, the VSB president and CEO, one of the speakers. Already, there was a rough beginning this year because of factors such as airline disruptions, economic concerns and the storms, she said.
“Santa Barbara must compete aggressively,” said Ms. Janega-Dykes, reminding the businesses at the summit that there are many other cities looking to reignite their tourism industries.
However, Ms. Janega-Dykes expressed confidence in the beauty and the people of Santa Barbara. “VSB has the best success when working together with businesses and residents in mind.”
The summit included a review of Santa Barbara’s current economy.
Over the last month, hotel occupancies have gone down (due to the recent flooding), but Visit Santa Barbara has increased its ad spending by around 600%, generating about 424,000 users who followed the ad to a local business’ website. For businesses looking for more public relations, VSB suggests using TikTok.
In other good news, the Santa Barbara Airport’s capacity has gone up by 21%, allowing more tourists to fly in, and leisure and hospitality jobs have fully recovered to pre-COVID numbers (about 28,600). That’s according to numbers announced at the summit.
To look at 2023’s travel conditions and its effect on travel behavior and look at how Santa Barbara might benefit from the various factors, Visit Santa Barbara brought in keynote speaker Clayton Reid, the executive chairman at MMGY Global, who is known as one of the travel industry’s top minds in marketing and strategic planning.
Overall, Mr. Reid said Santa Barbara “should do really really well.”
Here are some of the macrotrends he expects Santa Barbara to benefit from:
— There are an estimated 150 million Chinese tourists who are looking to travel to the U.S.
— The intent to travel to Europe has gone down.
— Older travelers are the wealthiest travelers. Mr. Reid added that 24% of older travelers self-report handicaps, both physical and mental, so accessibility is a key factor.
On the other hand, there are also some potential “disruptions” this year. Mr. Reid mentioned that the media’s negativity can make people less likely to travel, American household savings are at 2%, and credit card debt is higher now than it has been in two decades. The “metaverse” is gaining traction.
But just as businesses are itching to get back into the swing of things, people are wanting to travel – despite natural disasters, Mr. Reid said.
After a natural disaster happens in a place, experts project how long it will take for people to want to travel again to that location. Mr. Reid conveyed that the time is much lower than has been projected.
For instance, an unnamed town was hit by a hurricane. Mr. Reid said it was projected that it would take 110 days for tourists to return.
But tourists returned after one week.
People want to travel, but they want it to be easy. Mr. Reid boiled down the consumer’s wants to three things: control, reliability and leadership from brands. People do not want to go on vacation to just build more stress, but people look to hospitality companies to remove the stress for them, he said.
For instance, despite it being the Digital Age, usage of travel advisers went up 20%. These three consumer priorities seem to be a result of COVID-19 and its restrictions, but it is also an indicator that people are looking to connect with people.
They want to see people and talk to them because they haven’t for so long.
According to Mr. Reid, 64% of people prioritize brands when purchasing products and 91% of people think that authenticity is one of the most important factors for brands. As a result, Mr. Reid suggests corporate social responsibility.
In addition to the report of trends, Visit Santa Barbara revealed its plans for stimulating growth in the hospitality industry.
One plan is a “Third Night Free” deal at participating hotels. (Hotels can still participate by contacting VSB.)
Visit Santa Barbara has also partnered with UCSB to create and teach a Hospitality Management curriculum. There is a one-day workshop that is launching in the spring, and there will be a weeklong boot camp and certificate program that are still being developed. If you are not interested in taking a Hospitality Management program, Visit Santa Barbara is also looking for certified teachers.