Santa Barbara’s Billion-Dollar Tourism Industry

Business Is Booming with Rising Bed Tax Revenue and Incoming Cruise-Ship Fleet

Quick now: What’s Santa Barbara County’s $1.4 billion industry? (I don’t mean strawberries or marijuana.) Answer: Tourism.

That was the word Friday from Laura McIver, board chair of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, whose members gathered at the newly reopened El Encanto Hotel, where she is general manager.

Visitors are spending $106 billion a year in California, despite intense and mounting competition from other states and foreign nations that are bankrolling efforts to lure eaters, drinkers, and sightseers, said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, a nonprofit that beats the drum for tourism.

“Marriott is building a new hotel a month in China,” she pointed out. Anne Madison, chief communications officer of Brand USA, which promotes U.S. tourism from other countries, pointed out how it’s a major job creator. California, she said, has “an embarrassment of riches” for foreign visitors.

Meanwhile, tourism is booming in Santa Barbara, with bed tax revenue rising and 22 cruise ships disgorging passengers here this year, many of whom have never been to Santa Barbara before.

Some cruise lines have pulled ships from Mexican itineraries due to fears of violence south of the border and rerouted them along the U.S. Pacific coast.

Taking over this year for McIver as Conference & Visitors Bureau board chair is Matthew La Vine, general manager at the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort.

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