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COVID-19 Surge Means Cruise Ships Won't Be Dropping Anchor in Santa Barbara Anytime Soon

Georg Eiermann
Before the coronavirus pandemic Santa Barbara had been averaging 20 to 30 cruise ship visits a year.

14 planned cruise ship stopovers in Santa Barbara have been cancelled. Visits could resume in March 2022.

They literally came to the South Coast by the boatload, spending millions of dollars a year on tours, bicycle rentals, whale watching trips, shopping and meals.

But, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has prompted Santa Barbara to extend its suspension of cruise ship visits to the region.

City of Santa Barbara Waterfront Director Mike Wiltshire says the health of residents, as well as cruise ship visitors, has to come first. 14 scheduled cruise ship stops in Santa Barbara from September through January have been cancelled.

"It's not a decision which was taken lightly," said Wiltshire.

It’s tough news for Santa Barbara County, which will lose out on tens of thousands of cruise ship visitors. Robin Elander is Executive Director of Downtown Santa Barbara, the organization which represents the city’s downtown business district.

"The cruise ships bring in a significant amount of money to our downtown economy," said Elander. "It's really very unfortunate that we're not quite at a place yet to be able to bring in those cruise ships."

What makes it tougher is the fact the ships come outside of the county’s peak tourism city, providing a boost to what in the past had been slower times of year for tourism-oriented businesses.

Wiltshire, the city's waterfront director, says the visits were planned before the start of the pandemic. He says many stopovers are scheduled two years or more in advance of the planned date.

The Santa Barbara official says the cruise lines are scrambling to reroute ships. The next visit on Santa Barbara’s schedule is now March 10, 2022.

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.