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Santa Barbara’s tourism drop-off paints concerning picture for local economy

SB County Courthouse
Ryan Fish/KEYT
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse and other local landmarks are closed to the general public amid the coronavirus pandemic.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Travel and tourism across the world have come to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. That reality is hurting Santa Barbara and the South Coast, which depends on visitors' dollars to fill out the local budget.

Visit Santa Barbara President and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes says that tourism typically injects about $2 billion into the local economy and creates about 13,500 jobs. Those numbers will be much lower this year.

“Given the uncertainty of how long these restrictions will be in place, it’s very likely that our spring and summer tourism industries will be decimated," she said.

Janega-Dykes said Monday about 20 percent of the South Coast's hotels have closed, with those staying open only at 10-15 percent capacity.

The lack of visitors means sales tax and travel bed tax revenues are plunging.

“It will take years for a full [economic] recovery," Janega-Dykes said.

She predicts this tourism recovery will take significantly longer than those after the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide disasters.

With that in mind, however, Janega-Dykes is encouraged by the community's resiliency.

“When it’s time to do so and our businesses reopen, I certainly hope that our local residents will be tourists in their own backyard," she said.

Janega-Dykes says travel and leisure will likely see short-term and long-term adjustments once restrictions are lifted.

Visit Santa Barbara is tracking studies that show more than 70 percent of Americans miss traveling and can't wait to travel again.

Another study shows an uptick in demand for beach and rural destinations, an advantage for the South Coast.

But the future of travel will present both opportunities and challenges for Santa Barbara.

“Once restrictions are lifted, our region will be particularly well-positioned to attract the drive markets, those visitors from Los Angeles,” Janega-Dykes said. “If you can imagine, every other coastal community in California will be trying to market to the same audience that we are, as well, too."

Visit Santa Barbara and other local tourism advocates now face the challenge of promoting the area as a future travel destination at a time where people are advised not to travel.

Janega-Dykes says her organization is now highlighting local businesses that are re-inventing themselves during the pandemic in order to stay alive. Some are offering virtual tours or experiences.

“These are these one of a kind businesses that people are very attracted to and this is the reason why they travel to Santa Barbara,” Janega-Dykes said.

Coronavirus / Health / Safety / Santa Barbara- S County

Ryan Fish

Ryan Fish is a reporter, sports anchor and forecaster at KEYT|KCOY|KKFX.