As the tri-county region has emerged from the Great Recession, travel and tourism loom larger and larger on the economic landscape, with Memorial Day as the traditional kick off to the region’s peak season.
In San Luis Obispo County, rebounding travel and tourism, plus the burgeoning solar industry, are key drivers of new jobs. Visit San Luis Obispo County, the countywide tourist promotion organization, reported in early May that countywide tourists accounted for $1.5 billion in overall impact, up 3.5 percent from a year earlier.
The county has benefited from the City of San Luis Obispo winning “Happiest Place on Earth” honors as well as effective promotional efforts by Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. The New York Times travel section twice in May produced articles favorable to SLO County and the Central Coast.
Traditionally the weakest link in leisure and hospitality, Ventura County has been developing the “Ventura County West” thanks to a three-year marketing effort by the county’s Lodging Association. The branding effort combined the resources of Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo to promote attractions that include the Channel Islands and Ventura Harbors.
Oil spill aside, South Santa Barbara County alone accounts for more than a billion dollars in tourist spending and with some 30 cruise ships headed to the city this year, the South Coast is getting an extra jolt of visitors. Add to that the wineries of Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Maria Valley, and you get a tourism powerhouse.
Visit Santa Barbara, which markets the region as The American Riviera, has had an effective international and social media marketing strategy.
Travel and tourism or TOT taxes for unincorporated Santa Barbara County have grown steadily since the end of the recession and are nearing the $8 million mark. In Goleta, 34 percent of city revenue comes from TOT taxes. Hospitality is the second largest employment sector countywide, after government.
But the 2015 season is clearly one of transition for the South Coast. The Santa Barbara Waterfront is the scene of two major construction projects, the rebuilding of the Mission Creek bridge and the La Entrada Hotel. Meanwhile, in Montecito, construction of Rick Caruso’s Miramar Hotel project, a huge addition to the area’s tourism assets, is just getting under way.