State and local tourism leaders had scheduled a meeting in Santa Barbara last week to discuss their plans to promote the region in time for spring break travel.
Still, some merchants in the region worry that it could take months before tourists return to Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, even after they are assured that the roads are clear and businesses are open.
During the fires and mudslides, Mitchell Sjerven, owner and operator of three restaurants, including Bouchon in Santa Barbara, said his eateries suffered a drop in business of up to 50 percent.
Customers have started to return, but Sjerven said visitors who had previously reserved halls for holiday parties and other gatherings are reluctant to rebook the facilities, saying they don't feel right partying in the wake of such tragedies.
" 'Just not feeling it,' is the most frequently cited phrase," he said of the reasons for many of his cancellations.
Maybe DeGeneres and Winfrey should get in front of a camera and show their viewers the bright sunshine, wide beaches and open restaurants of Santa Barbara to help overcome the previous images, Sjerven said.
"That would help immensely," he said.
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