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Tour and hospitality workers see a strong return of visitors for the summer season

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - For those who have hospitality and tourist-serving jobs, they are expecting an active summer season ahead, with travelers who may have been sidelined for two years because of COVID rules.

Already hotels have seen strong bookings into the fall.

Wedding planners are adding more dates to go with the ceremonies that were delayed during the pandemic shutdowns. Venue bookings are up. Staffing demands are high and hiring is at an all-out mode now.

With a welcoming smile, clever lines, and a desire to entertain, on board the Land Shark, tour guide Madalena Fossatti knows how it feels when good times go bad, as they did during the pandemic.

It's easier to talk about it, now that there's been a turn around. "It has been a really great re-entry.  I have to say people are having a good time," said Fossatti.

Simply known as "Maddy", she is a multi-talented guide and recalls the shock of the shut down.

She said, "it was really tough," and admits she never knew how long it was going to last and how hard it was going to impact her finances.

The Land Shark tours on land and in the waterfront zone, were either stopped or barely running during the COVID crisis, and Maddy's other jobs were either scaled back or also shut down.

She's also a music teacher with colorful trombones as her main instrument,  she's a trivia show host,   and a stand up comic. As a voice specialist her words can be heard on the speakers at the Santa Barbara Airport . She can also be seen on line teaching fitness. Fossatti says it takes her four to five jobs like this to live in Santa Barbara.

"Well it does for me. I don't have family history or a history here so I am on my own. Yes, I work multiple jobs to make ends meet here," she said.

On a Wednesday afternoon tour, she joked out to the shopping areas of the Funk Zone, about a wine tasting room saying, "and they are right next door to the surf shop where the bikinis are half off."

It's also not uncommon to wave at passerbys and her friends.

"Lots more people outside I think because of the pandemic.  It was fun to see a lot of people outside waving at people I know. (And they were) waving at me," said Fossatti.

She is encouraged about the months ahead but unpredictable events have taken a bite out of business many times over..

"It is coming back slowly.  We can't really get a break.  Right? We had a fire, mudslide, a pandemic and now a world war.  So with gas prices, that is affecting things a lot."

With optimism she says, "now back doing live trivia and now live comedy is coming back and Santa Barbara is becoming a real hot bed for live comedy," said Fossatti.

The Land Shark is still the big show for her and if summertime crowds return it will keep the finances afloat once again.

"I have to admit it is coming back slowly but it's coming back and I'm not going anywhere," said Fossatti.

For many hospitality workers, they say, the government financial help is fading, except for some who get certain ongoing assistance such as products from the Food Bank. Recently there have also been several job fairs to highlight available employment.

Now with work returning those who were on the sidelines, can get their hours back, and in many cases, also supplemental income through tips.

At the end of the day's tour, Fossatti did see some generous guests leaving with a few dollars for her tip jar, which was a toy sharks head - mouth open.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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