Despite projections that tourism would hold strong for Santa Barbara this summer, many businesses are feeling the effects of the recession.

Although summer is the most popular time for visitors to come to Santa Barbara, many people are staying close to home or looking for affordable vacations and discounts when traveling, Shannon Brooks of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission said. In response, many local businesses have been forced to adjust prices and services to accommodate the drop in business.

Brooks said that although industry surveys indicate people still planned to travel this summer, business was slow at the beginning of the season. However, Brooks said the Fourth of July holiday did bring an influx of tourism to the area.

“Anecdotally, from what the hotels have said… they were fairly full and it was quite busy downtown [during the Fourth of July],” she said. “There was definitely an increase in traffic.”

Brooks also said, as the summer has progressed, local tourism has been on the rise, and she hopes it continues to improve.

“[Businesses] are busier than they were a month ago and a month prior to that,” she said. “There’s definitely been an up-kick.”

Still, many business owners maintain that this season’s tourism season does not hold a candle to those of previous years.

Tim Gorham, owner of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours, said he has noticed a huge decrease from business last summer.

“We’ve definitely seen our business drop off 20 to 25 percent this year,” Gorham said. “[But] we’re still busy – busy enough to pay our bills.”

Patrick Brown, owner of Circle Bar B Stables, said businesses have stayed afloat during tough times by providing values and reduced prices. According to Brown, Circle Bar B – which provides lodging, horseback riding and other activities to tourists – has made adjustments to continue attracting travellers.

“[This summer is] definitely a little slower,” Brown said. “In the offseason, we had to do some special rates at the lodge.”
Brown said that the lodge has fared well by maintaining its traditional prices and including meals in the total cost. Although its other services have suffered, Brown noted that Circle Bar B still has enough business to manage its costs.

“There’s still a decent amount of people coming, because it’s not a really expensive deal and it’s a nice getaway,” Brown said. “People have been coming and have really enjoyed it. They must feel they’re getting a good value for their money.”

Tour groups are also responding to the demand for discounted prices and special deals to draw tourists to the area. Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours now provides a weekly “Economic ‘Wine & Cycling’ Stimulus Package” for customers on a tight budget.

The SB Conference & Visitors Bureau is also trying new features to accommodate the needs of tourists this summer. Its summer 2009 newsletter features a budget-maximizing program called “Compliments of Santa Barbara,” which includes a “Hot Deals” section. Brooks said that the program was formed in “response to the current trends of consumers’ desire for ‘classic’ experiences and value.”

According to Brooks, many summer travellers are looking to save money by finding a vacation spot close to home.

“The economy has affected how people travel. … They will take fewer trips, stay closer to home, drive more often than fly and plan trips much more last minute,” she said. “They will spend less as well, on accommodations, dining and shopping.”

Andre Manoux of Santa Barbara Land & Sea Tours agreed.

“It’s quite likely we will see more visitors from our surrounding counties and Southern California, which has always been our predominant market,” Manoux said. “We’ve seen the biggest increase in locals and people from California, as opposed to international travellers.

In light of these trends, Brooks said that the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau will continue to adjust to tourists’ current needs.

“Travellers right now are looking for value to stretch their limited dollars,” she said.