Tourism Trends Roasted Over Chicken and Sorbet

Insults and Insights Abound at S.B. Conference and Visitors Bureau’s Annual Luncheon

Airlines charging for carry-ons and hotels selling bottles of water for $7 were just two of the tourism trends targeted on Thursday by travel journalist Peter Greenberg, who delivered the keynote talk on at the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau’s annual luncheon. “When you start nickel and diming us in that way, it’s a declaration of war,” argued Greenberg, who regularly reports on CBS’s “The Early Show” and has also appeared on Oprah Winfrey and other popular talk shows. “Stop nickel and diming. It doesn’t work, especially not in this climate.”

Served in the Coral Casino’s coastal ballroom alongside chilled gazpacho, delicately sautéed chicken, and a sweet sorbet dessert, Greenberg’s bluntly candid remarks were eaten up by the more than 220 people in attendance, including politicians from Guadalupe to Carpinteria, restaurateurs, hoteliers, winemakers, museum directors, and others involved with Santa Barbara County’s tourism industry. After lemonade, water, and wine on the sun-soaked patio, the luncheon, which had to be canceled last year due to the Jesusita Fire, began with comments from CVB head Kathy Janega Dykes, who plugged the recent campaign to confront “aggressive panhandling” by routing spare change to homeless-support organizations rather than individuals and also directed attendees’ attention to the baggie of baked treats at their tables, courtesy of The Good Cookie, a program run by the residents and staff of the Casa Esperanza shelter. Other CVB members also spoke as did Frontier Airlines vice president Cliff Van Leuven, who announced that there will be two flights a day to and from Denver at the Santa Barbara Airport starting on June 4 in a WiFi-enabled plane that he called a “beautiful bird.”

But the star of the luncheon was certainly Greenberg, who began his talk on “The New Normal” by explaining, “It’s all abnormal.” Noting that tourism is the largest industry in the world, Greenberg said that the Icelandic volcano eruption was a “wake-up call” to decision-makers about just how important traveling is, not just for six million stranded tourists but for air cargo. Just like in the wake of 9/11, planes were returned to the sky six days later, not because the air was cleaner or security was tighter — he joked that TSA really stands for “thousands standing around” and “taking scissors away” — but because of an “economic imperative” mandated by a world hooked on easy and efficient transportation.

In the Internet age of constant, free-flowing information, Greenberg explained, “The audience out there is getting smarter.” But he warned against listening to anyone: “I trust citizen journalism as much as I trust citizen surgery.” Nonetheless, he believes that hotels, airlines, and other sectors must be better prepared to show off the “process of travel,” and be ready to invite people behind the scenes to provide a more “participatory” experience. He lauded Santa Barbara for being a “hub of enabling” in that sense, but then returned to the criticism, this time of flashy brochures with lots of words that end in “est” — such as greatest, happiest, etc. — and overly sunny marketing schemes. “We like seeing real people doing real things,” said Greenberg, who was also a proponent of the tourism industry embracing train, bus, and RV travel. “Don’t make it perfect. Make it real.”

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