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It's worth billions of dollars to the local economy but how is tourism performing in Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara is seeing a slight uptick in tourism numbers
Caroline Feraday
Santa Barbara is seeing a slight uptick in tourism numbers

Tourism is big business for Santa Barbara.

Tourism in Santa Barbara generates more than $2.24 billion, including $82.9 million in yearly tax revenue and is responsible for 15,000 tourism jobs. In short, if tourism in Santa Barbara sneezes…the South Coast catches a cold.

"Tourism brings visitors and employs so many of the great people in Santa Barbara lodging, restaurants, the services that support lodging and restaurants. So I think it's critical, very, very critical," said Chris Cline, from Hotel Santa Barbara.

Cline says the health of the tourism industry in Santa Barbara is good, but has had challenges.

"Those challenges, I think, were certainly fires and flooding locally years ago. COVID and inflation!" said Cline.

"At the end of the day, most hotels, most lodging, most restaurants are small businesses that have small margins. So all of those factors make things challenging," he said.

Tourism in Santa Barbara got a boost in the early days of the pandemic recovery, when people couldn’t travel internationally and wanted a break. But – with international travel back open – and world events like the summer Olympic Games overseas, the area has stiffer competition to win tourists, explains Kathy Janega-Dykes, the President/CEO of Visit Santa Barbara.

"We definitely saw a boom, post Covid, where the rest of the world was closed. So people were traveling to the Santa Barbara and surrounding areas. And now certainly our customers have lots of choices in the last two years. Europe seemed to be a very popular choice. And we're also seeing that continue. And then also people are now traveling to Asia as well too. So it's so important for us to continue being aggressive and highlighting what Santa Barbara has to offer," said Janega-Dykes.

She says there’s plenty for the industry to feel optimistic about, with a slight uptick in room reservations this year compared to last.

"We're seeing some very positive trends for the upcoming summer season. Our hotels are reporting that they are seeing more reservations on the books than they did at the same time last year, and we're also seeing an interesting trend with an increased number of meetings and conferences and weddings being booked into the area - and that's really important to our community, particularly with our larger hotels and then with our smaller hotels certainly benefiting from the compression. But it's also a reliable source of business and it allows us to be able to forecast better," she said.

She continued, "We're excited that Delta is returning back to Santa Barbara in early June. This is really a game changer for our community, particularly with that addition to the other incredible air service that we have here at Santa Barbara Airport. So not only will Delta service Salt Lake City, but also the addition of Atlanta will be an opportunity to really bring visitors here from all over the world."

This month is also California Tourism month and according to Visit California, travel spending throughout the state reached $149 billion in 2023, an increase of 6% over 2022 figures.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.