In an effort to jumpstart Santa Barbara’s battered tourism economy, business leaders met with hospitality industry members for a Community Tourism Recovery Forum at the Hyatt Centric at East Beach on Feb. 1.
With the closures of Highway 101 and railway lines during the past two months of fire and mudslides, the South Coast was hit with an “unprecedented tragedy,” said Kathy Janega-Dykes, head of Visit Santa Barbara.
She said her organization’s marketing plans were “thrown up in the air” in the wake of the Thomas fire and Montecito mudslides that killed a total of 25 people, destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and businesses and shut down Santa Barbara County tourism before and after Christmas.
Janega-Dykes said her organization is doing everything I can to help promote the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which began Jan. 31 and continues through Feb. 10. The festival usually is a big boon the local economy.
Sharon Byrne, representing the Coast Village Association, said many of the recently closed restaurant have reopened, including the Honor Bar, Cava and several others. Many businesses were hampered by lack of potable water, natural gas, Internet access and electricity.
However, she said the Montecito Inn, Los Agaves Restaurant and CVS drug store may take longer to get back in business. While Jennine’s Restaurant is closed, the owner still passed out coffee and pastries, Byrne said.
Coast Village Road was closed twice: once because of smoke and ash from the fire and then after it was flooded with water and debris in the Jan. 9 mudslide.
“It feels like a long, unfolding train wreck,” Byrne told a crowd of about 100.
While the tone of the gathering was mostly upbeat, missing from the discussion was that the Four Seasons Biltmore remains closed and San Ysidro Ranch and La Casa de Maria retreat center are heavily damage. Some discussion included the closure of some south Coast beaches.
Other business leaders and government officials expressed hope that visitors will return to the South Coast and residents will buy local.
Those in attendance included Mayor Cathy Murillo, county Supervisor Das Williams, Region Chamber of Commerce President Ken Oplinger, who just recovered from heart surgery, and David Lombardi, interim Downtown Santa Barbara chief.
Murillo said the city has deferred bed taxes and sidewalk fees in an effort to give some relief to lodging places and outdoor cafes.
Caroline Beteta, head of Visit California, told the gathering that her state tourism group is pushing nationally and internationally to promote Santa Barbara as still a great place to visit. She said some $2 million is going into the effort.