SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Thursday's unseasonably warm temperatures along the South Coast contradict what is already a bleak winter season for Santa Barbara restaurants, hotels and tourism-dependent businesses.
Travel restrictions and skyrocketing COVID-19 cases have combined to bring the area's typically slow winter travel season to new lows this year, with tourism at a virtual standstill.
One Santa Barbara hotel manager says aside from last April--when sudden COVID lockdowns purged pending reservations--this month has been the slowest month for reservations he has seen in 10 years.
Visit Santa Barbara president and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes says 12 local hotels have had to shut down temporarily, while those that are open are filling roughly 30 percent of their rooms, compared to the typical 58 percent this time of year.
“Hotels are closed for leisure business but are able to accept essential workers,” said Janega-Dykes. “And surprisingly, there are a number of people traveling for essential work, whether they are contractors or medical staff.”
Hotel managers say there are some people ignoring the travel restrictions and traveling for leisure.
However, in-person dining at restaurants is still on hold under the regional stay at home order and winter events like the Santa Barbara International Film Festival have been postponed to later this year.
While out-of-town visitors are few and far between right now, Visit Santa Barbara is encouraging locals to support small businesses through its Dine, Sip & Support Local guide and other curated itineraries.
The team is also selling the South Coast on its social media platforms as a must-see destination for visitors once it is safe to travel.
“There’s such pent up demand for travel right now, too, and we certainly saw that last summer season when hotels were permitted to reopen for leisure travel,” Janega-Dykes said. “And [Santa Barbara] was a destination that people sought out.”