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Santa Barbara tourism officials wrestle with promoting the region after disaster

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

Visit California estimates that the Highway 101 closure that cut off Santa Barbara from its southern neighbors cost Santa Barbara County about $13 million in visitor spending during the nearly two-week shutdown, or $949,000 a day.

Also hard hit was the San Ynez Valley, home to the tourist-dependent towns of Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang, said Shelby Sim, president of Visit Santa Ynez Valley, the promotional agency for the region.

"The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was empty," he said. "It was a ghost town up here."

To get visitors to return, Santa Barbara County tourism officials are trying something different.

In the past, officials focused a big part of their campaign on drawing visitors from the San Francisco Bay Area, who are more likely to stay several days and spend more money per visit than day visitors from Los Angeles.

But since Highway 101 reopened, tourism officials say they plan to launch a new campaign to target visitors from Los Angeles and Orange counties.

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The day visitors from Southern California would be easier to persuade to return, tourism officials say, because they will understand that many parts of the region were untouched by the disasters and ready to accept visitors.

"They've been through this kind of thing, fires and flooding," said Jennifer Walker, vice president for marketing and strategy for Visit Santa Barbara.

The new campaign will touch on the disasters but focus on a brighter future, she said.

"It will be heartfelt and highlight our resiliency," Walker added.

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