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Coronavirus Decimating Tourist Season On Central, South Coasts; Industry Anxious To Reopen

Memorial Day has come and gone, and during what’s normally summer vacation season, finding a hotel room in Southern Santa Barbara County would be difficult.

But as the coronavirus crisis shut down hotels and motels, most of the rooms in the region are empty.

Tom Patton is General Manager and Partner of the Ramada Santa Barbara. He says in April, things were so bad that many hotels and motels had only a handful of visitors a night. Coronavirus orders restricted the use of the rooms to essential personnel only. It’s improved since then, but he says only about 20-30% of the rooms are being used nightly.

Patton is Chairman of the Board of Visit Santa Barbara, the non-profit group which promotes tourism in the region. The industry is vital to the region’s economy. More than seven million people visit annually, with a roughly two billion dollar impact on the economy. Tourism is credited with supporting more than 13,000 jobs.

The region’s tourism industry has learned how to cope with disasters, with the Thomas Fire and the Montecito debris flow. But, this is on a much wider, and longer scale. Tourism officials are focusing on coming up with creative ways to get visitors back once the state, and Santa Barbara County allow motel, and hotels to reopen to causal visitors.

Kathy Janega-Dykes is the President, and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, which represents the region’s tourism industry. Janega-Dykes says when things reopen, the hope is the Central and South Coasts will be well positioned to benefit, because coronavirus concerns may leave vacationers wary of international travel, or long trips.

The Visit Santa Barbara executive says they are preparing an aggressive marketing effort, knowing they will have to compete with other road trip destinations in the state.

Even though 20-30% occupancy is an improvement, that’s not sustainable long term for hotels and motels. And, every day that goes by compounds the situation. This is normally the peak time of year, when the lodging and restaurant industries on the South Coast make the money which helps them get through the quieter off season.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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