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After battling an uphill struggle against the nationwide recession, Santa Barbara’s tourism industry is finally making a recovery.
The Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau is set to receive more than $1.3 million from the Santa Barbara City Council for marketing programs highlighting the city’s tourist destinations. The CVB is planning several new projects including the establishment of Tourism Business Improvement Districts — marketing and funding programs for hotels and other lodgings — to speed up the economic revival.
According to CVB Director of Communications Shannon Turner Brooks, tourism steadily increased during the last year.
“We definitely felt the effects of the recession [in 2008 and 2009], but since February of 2010 the tourism business has been picking up so we’ve seen steady incremental inclines in [hotel] occupancy,” Brooks said. “We are definitely on our way out of … the recession.”
Although the city collects a Transient Occupancy Tax from hotel guest fees, Ramada Limited Hotel general manager and former CVB board president, Tom Patton said the amount channeled into tourism promotion has decreased in recent years.
“When the transient occupancy tax was established in the ’60s or ’70s, CVB used to get 50 percent,” Patton said. “Over the years that has eroded down to 10 percent.”
According to Brooks, the CVB is establishing TBIDs to supplement the decline in government funding
“It is independent of the city and county,” Brooks said. “Basically the industry is taxing itself. This is a very common model now. About 50 different communities are doing this in California.”
Patton said the revenue will fund several promotional projects for tourism in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and Goleta.
“By the summer we will have collected enough money to start launching some marketing initiatives,” Patton said. “Government funding for tourism has either been greatly reduced or, in a lot of communities, eliminated completely.”
About 18 percent of Santa Barbara’s tourism is dependent upon international visitors. Brooks said that proportion has remained relatively stable throughout the recession.
“[Foreign tourists] will stay longer and spend more money, so even though it is a small segment they will be here midweek when we need the business and spend more per day than domestic travelers,” Brooks said.
Other local industries are also adapting to suit the needs of travelers. The Santa Barbara Airport recently replaced a terminal that was constructed in 1942. Terry Gibson, the Santa Barbara Airport’s director of marketing, said he thinks the new terminal will further increase tourism.
“The new terminal is going to be marrying the airport with downtown and have a lot of the features people expect to see downtown,” Gibson said. “We have lost a few airline routes due to the fact that the airlines were adversely affected by the economy. We are working to have those airlines come back.”