The tourism industry is looking bright for Santa Barbara in the coming year, said speakers at the 2017 Travel Outlook, a tourism and hospitality industry event presented by Visit Santa Barbara (VSB) on Friday, January 20, 2017 at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion. On an unusually rainy day, when flash flood warnings momentarily disrupted the proceedings, more than 100 state and local hospitality industry officials gathered to discuss the future of South Coast tourism for the coming year.
VSB President and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes provided an update on the new Santa Barbara South Coast Visitor Profile Study and highlighted results from the 2016 Cruise Ship Economic Impact Study. Janega-Dykes pointed to MOXI – The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation as a major new draw for visitors. One in three visitors to S.B. stayed overnight, while day-trippers still represented the vast majority at 67.6% of visitors; the average visitor made an average of six trips over the course of a year. LA-Riverside-Orange County remains the top MSA of residence, while the top internaitonal markets included the U.K. and Canada. Janega-Dykes showed VSB’s recent See (Yourself In) Santa Barbara campaign as one of the ways the city is reaching out to domestic markets: to celebrate nonstop flights to SBA, a sky blue VW bus visited the Dallas-Fort Worth area, replete with photo booth and surf board, to encourage flights westward.
The cruise ship industry, meanwhile, has grown dramatically over the last few years. In 2016, 29 cruise ships brought 80,831 passengers to S.B., contributing $3.9 million to the local economy, up 61% from 2013. Almost half of all passengers said they are likely to return within one to two years, including nearly 8% who are likely to return within 1 to 2 months.
Keynote speaker Dr. Peter Yesawich, principal of industry insights at MMGY Global, Inc., 40% of U.S. leisure travelers surveyed said they were interested in visiting S.B., and of those, 43% were millennials aged 18-34, versus 29% Gen Xers and 24% Boomers. Of generational groups, millennials outrank all other age groups in their interest in exploration, experiencing new cuisines, self-discovery, experiencing different cultures, pursuing wellness programs, and more, all of which he cited as potential draws to S.B.
The same is true for Chinese visitors, said Kassie Fraser, director of Asia Pacific marketing of Visit California with Chinese under 35 rapidly becoming the dominant force in China’s consumer market. More and more Chinese travelers are considered free, independent travelers (FITs), as opposed to tour group vacationers, with 41% of FITs aged 25-34. California is China’s top U.S. destination, with 1 million visitors spending $2.6 billion annually.
Bruce Baltin, senior V.P. of CBRE Hotels/Consulting, addressed the upcoming openings of hotels in the area. In 2017, the annual hotel room supply is expected to grow by 4.5%, with the reopening of the Santa Barbara Inn and the 123-room La Entrada in July 2017. expects a 2.% growth in revenue per available room.