Santa Monica’s tourism industry continues to grow and officials are framing the hospitality industry as a reproach to national/international fears of discrimination.
Discussions of tourism’s economic impact and cultural value occurred on May 12 at Santa Monica Travel and Tourism’s annual meeting.
Total visitor spending increased by 1.6 percent in 2016 to 1.87 billion. The City’s Transient Occupancy Tax (paid by hotel guests on their rooms) increased 9.2 percent to $50.9 million. Sales tax revenue declined 0.4 percent to $11.8 million.
Hotel visitors spend an average of $388 per day compared to $96 by day visitors. Of the visitors coming to the city, 47 percent are international and 53 percent domestic. International visitors account for 50.6 percent of total spending and the top five markets visiting Santa Monica are Australia/New Zealand (12.9 percent), England (10.2 percent), Canada (9.4 percent), Mexico (7.5 percent) and Scandinavia (7.5 percent).
Domestically, 29 percent of visitors come from California, 6 percent form Texas, 5 percent form Nevada, 5 percent from New York and 4 percent from Arizona.
SMTT said tourism secures 13,300 jobs within the city and estimated every Santa Monica Household would have to pay an additional $1,311 to cover city services without tourism dollars.
The data is the same kind of information provided by SMTT on an annual basis, but this year, the figures were provided in a booklet that contained a political message on the back cover. “We welcome all races, all religions, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all genders, we stand with you, you are safe here,” it said.
The theme of tourism as an inclusionary action was reinforced by several speakers.
SMTT President/CEO Misti Kerns didn’t mention President Trump by name, but she did list political factors working against the hospitality business.
“Early indicators are showing that a strong US dollar coupled with a weakening global economy were already having an impact on international travel,” she said. “Now the international travel and domestic industry is on high alert in the wake of unprecedented political situations and global events. From confusion on the proposed executive order travel ban, to a perceived lack of customer service on our airlines, to a potential ban on large electronics on flights to the US from Europe just to name a few.”
In her prepared remarks she said SMTT is prepared to help the city thrive despite the political climate but she deviated from her written speech to make a personal plea. She said the city has always welcomed people from all over the world and when attendees heard a foreign accent on the city’s streets they should “make eye contact and thank them,” she said.
Keynote speaker and Visit California President/CEO Caroline Beteta said the state has a role to play in keeping the country’s shores open.
“California represents a culture of openness, and the world has always looked to the Golden State as a place where all dreams are welcome,” she said. “By rolling out the red carpet for international visitors, we are ensuring that California remains an inclusive destination for all tourists.”
Officials also announced plans to leverage the tourism industry’s resources for philanthropic endeavors with the formation of Santa Monica Cares. The new program will be a partnership with the City of Santa Monica and Mayor Ted Winterer said cooperation is the only path to solve pressing problems such as homelessness.
“The simple fact is that more people are homeless, we’ve reached a regional crisis point and we all have a part to play in getting more people into supportive housing programs,” he said.
The event was one of the final appearances for retiring Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek who reiterated that collaboration will be the key to addressing future problems. From transit, to community outreach to government efficiency, she said innovation will be needed in the public and private sector to maintain the gains acquired so far.
In referencing her immanent departure from the city, she issued her parting words.
“Standout, innovate, inspire, stay true to who you are and after I’m gone, don’t fuck it up.”