(photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Although Santa Monica has not made it through the recent recession unharmed, one local industry — tourism — continues to perform at a fairly consistent level. While other parts of the country are listing 50 percent decreases in tourism revenues, Santa Monica is making it through with much less damage.

“We’re down from 2008 to 2009,” said Kim Baker, Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau director of marketing. “We’re down, but we’re faring OK comparatively.”

“Faring OK” might be a bit of an understatement. The hotel occupancy rate in Santa Monica between 2008 and 2009 went down 4.5 percent. However, other area cities such as Beverly Hills and Downtown Los Angeles faced occupancy rate decreases of 12 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Convention and Visitors Bureau officials speculate that Santa Monica’s unique mix of shopping, cultural activities and beach proximity have allowed it to sustain smaller tourism damages than other parts of Los Angeles and the country.

Regardless of reported occupancy decreases, some Santa Monica hotels have yet to face a significant drop in patrons, although that may be a result of the demographic the hotels market themselves to. Shutters on the Beach caters to an entertainment industry crowd so, regardless of any decrease in domestic or international tourists, the hotel has been packed with industry people during the recent awards season.

The Georgian Hotel’s employees have likewise seen a sustained number of patrons coming through their doors.

“We have been pretty consistent,” said reservations agent Arlene Figueroa. “[Maybe] a little less than the year before.”

She said Georgian visitors largely consist of families during the summer and American business travelers the rest of the year.

While these hotels reflect a steady arrival of domestic tourists, some currency exchange agencies suggest a stable flow of international tourists, as well. Robin Pinner, an employee at Wilshire Coin, said they are seeing their normal annual increase in foreign currency exchange as the weather warms.

“The main increase that we’ve seen lately is in the European and Japanese [currencies],” said Pinner. She said these increases are even above typical summer growth, presumably because of the dollar and euro’s strength. Pinner said Wilshire Coin, which deals with more than 30 currencies, has not seen any major decreases in any currencies they exchange.

A Plus Foreign Currency Exchange officials have similarly seen increases in euro exchange, but said their Asian currency exchanges have gone down.

Although this suggests Santa Monica is receiving less visitors from Asian countries, all international tourism to Santa Monica is projected to pick up as early as 2011.

“We really try and focus on international long haul travel,” Baker said.

With its limited budget, Baker said the Convention and Visitors Bureau focuses its marketing to English-speaking countries, such as in the UK and Australia, to avoid the costs of translation necessary in other countries.

news@smpd.com

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