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“No Vacancy” signs make a comeback in Santa Barbara

No Vacancy neon sign
Tracy Lehr / KEYT

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Hotels reopened to tourists in Santa Barbara County about two weeks ago and it is no longer uncommon to see neon signs flashing "No Vacancy," especially by the beach.

The Castillo Inn is sold out all week.

Castillo Inn Assistant Manager Eli Nania said, "It was pretty surprising just when business came away, and just as surprising when it came back, all of the sudden everybody was trying to get out of L.A. and we kind of got a ton of reservations all at once."

Downtown Santa Barbara executive director Robin Elander said no vacancy signs are a welcome sight.

"We are so excited to be able to welcome visitors back to our downtown area to see all of the new and exciting developments, including outdoor dining, and our retailers opening back up. We are also excited to see that there are actually some no vacancy signs at hotels again.

She said they are following state and local guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"All of our businesses are practicing social distancing as well as safety guidelines so we invite people to come back and check things out and see what is happening here," said Elander.

Tina and Mark Doyle of Santa Cruz decided to vacation closer to home and booked an Airbnb in Santa Barbara.

"We've been hearing about it, that they're starting to fill up, so we thought we better come down before it gets totally crowded," said Tina.

Mark said they are wearing masks when people are around, and would check out State Street when it isn't too busy.

"It is a strange world we are in, " said Mark.

Visit Santa Barbara tracks tourism. Last week VSB statistics showed local South Coast hotel occupancy rates trending at about 45 percent.

It still has a way to go to restore regular levels but no vacancy signs are a step in that direction.

Last week the VSB teamed up with the California Hotel and Lodging Association to distribute supplies to hotels to make sure their workforce stated safe.

Cities including Santa Barbara count on revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) also known as the bed tax added to hotel bills.

In the past the city would make a couple million of dollars a month from those taxes. The money will help the city recover financially from the pandemic.

Since the Fourth of July weekend is known to be busy, visitors are advised to make reservations early.

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Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor of KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.