What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19?
The impact of the coronavirus is unprecedented for the tourism industry. The U.S. Travel Association estimates the economic fallout of this crisis will be nine times worse than the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On a local front, our hotels, restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, retail stores, attractions and activities providers all are reeling from the impacts. Realistically, it will take multiple years for a full recovery, and unfortunately Santa Barbara isn’t alone in this—cities and towns throughout the world are experiencing these impacts.
My biggest concerns are for the people in our community who are unemployed, and the businesses—especially small businesses—that are struggling right now. About 20 percent of our area hotels have been temporarily closed and many in the workforce were furloughed or took pay reductions. All the frontline and behind-the-scenes staff who are the glue that hold our industry together, and the owners forced to make hard decisions—I worry about how they will overcome this period.
Santa Barbara and Los Angeles have both taken devastating hits to their economies and visitor industries. Moods of frustration, fear and uncertainty have been pretty universal these past two months. One small solace has been that Santa Barbara’s beaches and trails haven’t been closed; we’re fortunate that our county’s public health officer recognized how important that was for our residents. This simple, direct access to nature has done a lot to help lift the spirits of so many of us.
While our budget has been declining, and we were forced to make difficult cuts in staffing, programs and pay, Visit Santa Barbara has continued operating through this time with a scaled–down crew. We’ve been deploying our resources to support local businesses, for example, by creating guides to online shopping, virtual tours, and takeout and delivery services on our website. We also launched a new webinar series to bring research and intelligence to our industry and community leaders.
What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation?
In terms of strategy, things haven’t changed radically from last week to this week. We’ve been busy finalizing our marketing plan so that it’s ready to roll out when stay-at-home measures are lifted, and we can bring visitors back to help restart our economy. Santa Barbara will be facing some stiff competition with all the other destinations in Southern California, but suffice to say that our area’s alluring outdoors, from the mountains to the beaches, which offer plenty of space for social distancing, will be a part of the value proposition for post-quarantine travel.
However, between the beginning of the shut-down versus now there have been changes in our approach, especially as new information has become available. The plan during the interim period has been to do what we can to encourage people to support area businesses and attractions responsibly from a distance. Now we’re planning for the time when we can shift into messaging about why Santa Barbara is a compelling travel destination.
The health and safety of our community, workforce and visitors are absolutely paramount. We don’t see this as a zero-sum game between health and the economy.
The health and safety of our community, workforce and visitors are absolutely paramount. We don’t see this as a zero-sum game between health and the economy. We rely on the expertise of public health officers to interpret the science and make determinations that will guide the easing of travel restrictions in a responsible way—that’s not only in our own county, but the state of California and nearby counties, like LA, which is one of our largest visitor markets.
How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?
That’s a great question. We’re hoping by then we’ll have much more clarity around this virus and what travel patterns look like. If what we hear from global experts is predictive, protocols like social distancing, face coverings and health screenings may still be with cities around the globe for some time to come.
Thankfully, Santa Barbara has always been a destination where outdoor experiences are part of the lifestyle, and other attractions, like our food and wine scene, have proven to be adaptable in this interim period. While it’s too soon to predict next year’s strategy or even what will happen with events and festivals, we feel many of the core assets of this community—the natural beauty, the unique Spanish Colonial architecture, and the innovative, hardworking talents—will remain unchanged.
What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?
Our community is resilient and comes together in times of need. That’s something it proved during the fire and debris flow in Montecito a couple of years ago, but also over many decades. In 1925, after a devastating earthquake, Santa Barbara was rebuilt into something more enduring and beautiful. Likewise, this period provides another opportunity for our city to reinvent itself.
Over the years, I’ve learned how important it is to bring together stakeholders across the community and keep an ongoing dialog with them. A mistake to avoid would be to overlook concerns about coronavirus—whether from the community itself, visitors or our workforce—and the seriousness of this disease. We absolutely have that at the forefront of our minds.
So much of our economy is tied to tourism, and we have a great privilege and responsibility to do what we can to get Santa Barbara back on its feet. Our hospitality workers can’t wait to get back to doing the jobs they love when the time is right—helping visitors create moments of connection and transformation. That can only happen if we ensure the right measures are in place so that everyone is comfortable.
Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime
It’s important for my days to be very structured. I’ve always been an early riser. So, I continue to get up very early and my mornings start with a workout at home. I like to end the day with a walk in the harbor.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, since it’s such a cliché, but I’ve been bingeing on a lot of Netflix. I just finished Ozark. In terms of films, I’ve never been a really big fan of sitting in movie theaters—you’ll more likely find me at a concert, especially outdoors at the Santa Barbara Bowl. But I’ve been using this period to catch up on a lot of movies. The latest was Ford vs. Ferrari.
I just finished two books that were written a few years ago by Alice Steinbach, Without Reservations and Educating Alice. The author was a journalist and decided to take a year off and travel. In the first book she stayed in various places throughout Europe, and in the second she wrote about taking classes in various cities. Like, she learned how to herd sheep in Scotland, and she visited Jane Austen’s hometown. In Japan, she learned flower decorating and took classes from geisha. That’s kind of one of my dreams, too.
What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
I’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors with my husband. We live in a location where it’s very easy to do so. I’m always at the beach. We’re always biking, kayaking in the harbor.
During this whole period, I’ve really been realizing the importance of slowing down and appreciating life. I didn’t realize how busy I was until now. You don’t know until you stop. It’s something I struggled with at the beginning—I like to go at a fast pace.
What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
Honestly? I’ve been focusing on fixing up my home. Call it decoration therapy. I’ve been repurposing rooms, getting rid of items I don’t need, repainting. We’re focusing right now on a lot of home spruce ups. My poor husband, I’m just directing him. We’ve already wallpapered walls, repainted the back bedroom and been looking at the office. They are all things I didn’t have time to focus on before.
Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
I love road trips. They’re probably my favorite travel experience. Road trips allow you to stop and really explore areas that you’ve never seen before in the past, instead of just flying from point A to B. So, we’ll probably go up and down the coast, as far north as Mendocino. We also had a trip to Santa Fe that we may reschedule. We’ll do Western regional travel now and East Coast trips next summer. There are so many places to discover in our own backyard.
I should add that I’m a planner, not only on a professional level but on a personal level. So, in pre-COVID-19 life, I was constantly making plans with friends, entertaining at home. Those are things that I’m looking forward to getting back to, entertaining friends and family and enjoying our local Santa Barbara wines. For now, we have a big responsibility.