The Tri-Counties fought off June gloom and signaled disaster recovery resilience with a strong pulse for the tourism industry as summer travel winds down.
Although overcast skies in June and July may have dampened tourism, especially from Los Angeles driving markets, destination marketing officials in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties all reported increases in visitors.
Hotel occupancy was up in the city of Ventura, San Luis Obispo County and the Santa Ynez Valley area. Visit Santa Barbara reported a slight rise in the number of room nights booked, and room revenues increased in Camarillo and Ventura as well as SLO County.
Well-attended destination events across the region, national press coverage and new food and beverage options also contributed to growth, tourism authorities said.
New flights at SLO and Santa Barbara airports gave regional travel a lift. Earlier this year, the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport added service to Sacramento and additional flights to Dallas; it also kicked off new flights to Salt Lake City in August. The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport added a new flight to Dallas in June.
A plethora of new hotel properties in the Tri-Counties hit the market for the summer. In Montecito and Santa Barbara, hotels that were impacted by the Thomas fire and debris flow were reopened after being closed for a season.
Hotel Californian in downtown Santa Barbara was one of the businesses that struggled, following the disasters that arrived shortly after its opening in late 2017.
“We’re kind of feeling like it (business) is getting back up to where we were, as well as heading into a strong fall,” said General Manager Warren Nocon.
He said the hotel performed slightly above what was anticipated for the summer, although occupancy rates were somewhat soft due to additional hotels added to the market. The resort’s summer events were well attended, Nocon added.
Rosewood Miramar Beach opened in Santa Barbara in March with 161 rooms, and Harbor View Inn added 47 rooms to a new wing last September. A new 88-room Hyatt House also opened this month, which Visit Santa Barbara President and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes said will provide future economic growth.
“The Santa Barbara South Coast has had measured growth in hotel performance during the summer — which is tracking with a slight upward trend in hotel demand . . . over the last six months,” she wrote in an email to the Business Times.
From February to July, the number of room nights booked increased by about 6.7 percent, or 37,246, year over year, according to Visit Santa Barbara. The South Coast saw demand trend up by 5 percent year over year in June and 2 percent in July.
“We couldn’t delineate this as a particularly slow or speedy recovery from the 2018 disasters,” Janega-Dykes wrote. “Rather, the destination’s hotel performance appears to be tracking well.”
Hotel supply was also up 5 percent for the fiscal year, causing lower occupancy rates. But Janega-Dykes said that is common with new properties and the market takes about a year to adjust.
For the Santa Ynez Valley, tourism business this summer is on par with last summer, said Shelby Sim, president and CEO of Visit the Santa Ynez Valley. He estimated hotel occupancy was up slightly and said funds from tourism revenue are expected to be more than the organization budgeted for.
National and international awareness of the area has also sparked investment as guests are staying longer, expanding average room stays from 1.5 days to 2-3 days, he said.
“We are on track to have one of our biggest years ever,” Sim said.
Four new hotels are in the works: two mid-sized hotels with more than 100 rooms and two boutique hotels with under 20 rooms. Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos also has plans for an additional 64 units.
In San Luis Obispo County, a slew of new hotels expanded visitor options, said Brooke Burnham, vice president of marketing for Visit SLO Cal, in an email.
New hotels included La Quinta Inn & Suites in San Luis Obispo, Oxford Suites Paso Robles, The Agrarian Hotel in Arroyo Grande and Salty Sister at Morro Rock in Morro Bay. Several other lodging properties are also anticipated to open before the end of the year, she said.
The county’s northern coastal communities experienced the biggest impact in the lodging sector with occupancy up 3.9 percent, and revenue per available room was up 7 percent for the year in July.
The reopening of the iconic Highway 1 route in mid-summer last year restored travelers to the Central Coast. SLO County also saw “several new and renewed attractions come online,” Burnham wrote.
Since last summer, Bruce Munro’s Field of Light at Sensorio sprung up in Paso Robles; Pismo Pier reopened; and reconstruction on Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle was completed.
Countywide, hotel average daily rates were up year-over-year by 2.4 percent in June and 3.6 percent in July, she said, “bringing overall hotel revenues up year-over-year in both months and indicating a consistent economic impact.”
Occupancy rates were 76.4 percent in June and 81.2 percent in July. Countywide transient occupancy tax for June was nearly $4.6 million, a 7.3 percent year-over-year increase.
A potential downside for the industry is the trade war between China and the U.S., which impacts international travelers.
“We’ve received reports from our Asia tour operators of decreased travel from China due to the tariffs and trade wars,” Burnham wrote.
In Ventura County, the city of Ventura saw occupancy bump up 7.3 percent year-over-year during the month of July, and revenue per occupied room was up 13.7 percent.
Marlyss Munguia Auster, president and CEO of the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau, said the city has seen an increase in traffic from Texas and Arizona, both states it has targeted.
The Ventura Beach Marriott, which has 285 rooms and about 16,000 square feet of flexible conference space, underwent a $35 million renovation and reopened in late spring, said General Manager Shannon Hillygus.
“The summer leisure demand was strong even though we haven’t experienced the same growth as recent years,” he wrote in an email. “Gloomy weather in June and July contributed to softer occupancy early in the summer.” He added that international guest counts “appear to be behind prior years.”
The city also gained 40 new rooms at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ventura Harbor. Auster said the hotel supply along the harbor is easily absorbed.
In Camarillo, hotel occupancy has increased by 9 percent since 2014, said Yuliana Gonzalez, executive director of the Camarillo Hotel & Tourism Association. July rates were up 2.3 percent compared from last year.
Average daily rates in July grew 4.9 percent year over year, and revenue per available room bumped up 2.5 percent year-over-year.
“We would say a moderate recovery from the natural disasters occurring in 2018,” she wrote in an email. “Many of our guests are from the LA area traveling northbound.”
• Contact Annabelle Blair at [email protected]