Twilight Concert Series

Walk along Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade on any given day and alongside the strains of talented local street musicians you’ll hear conversations in Mandarin, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Hindi-to name just a few of the languages spoken by global visitors to our city.

Those foreign tongues should be music to the ears of both local businesses and residents, because international tourism is a key economic driver for Santa Monica. According to a 2014 study, visitors spend about $1.7 billion annually in the city, roughly 56 percent of which can be attributed to travelers from abroad. The room tax charged by hotels last year alone contributed $45.5 million directly to the city’s general fund, which finances essential city services such as the city’s schools and fire and police departments, in addition to the maintenance of our parks and beaches. Retail sales tax on tourists’ purchases generated another $10.6 million. Put another way, each Santa Monica household would have to contribute approximately $1,209 in additional taxes annually to maintain current city services without the revenue generated from tourism.

Given international visitors’ vast spending power, it’s no surprise so many smart Santa Monica businesses go the extra mile to cater to overseas clientele. Like many local enterprises, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company on the Santa Monica Pier works closely with travel agents, tour operators, destination meeting planners and Santa Monica Travel & Tourism to create awareness of its unique venue among leisure and business travelers from around the globe. “We attend several travel trade shows throughout the year,” says Shannon Holland, director of sales. “And if travel agents from, say, China are visiting we will invite them to the restaurant for lunch. So when they go back home we’re top of mind and they’re familiar with our brand.”

Of course, all the marketing in the world won’t help if a business doesn’t offer products and services international visitors want. For Bubba Gump, that means a varied and continually evolving menu that appeals to a wide array of palates. For upscale shopping center Santa Monica Place, it means a distinctive blend of merchandise featuring world-famous luxury brands like Tiffany & Co., Diane Von Furstenberg and Louis Vuitton. “Ideally these are products that visitors can’t get where they’re from or are a better value here,” says Shoshana Puccia, the mall’s senior manager of marketing. “Or sometimes there’s just a cachet to being able to say you bought it in Santa Monica, California.” As a further incentive to travelers from near and far, Santa Monica Place offers Visitor Rewards Passes that provide discounts and other promotions to customers who come from outside a 50-mile radius.

Santa Monica’s top international “feeder market” is Australia/New Zealand, which accounts for 18 percent of overseas visitors, followed by the U.K. (10 percent), Mexico (8%), Western Canada (6 percent) and Germany (5 percent). But Puccia says she also regularly encounters shoppers from Brazil, Japan, Italy and other European Union countries. And she has begun seeing more Chinese visitors, some of whom stay elsewhere in the LA area but make a special trip to Santa Monica Place to shop.

Pacific Park, a popular seaside attraction among both locals and visitors since it opened in 1996, has found another way to make overseas travelers feel welcome. “As Santa Monica’s largest youth employer, we hire international students who can provide our international visitors with a feeling of ‘home’ while on vacation,” says by Jeff Klocke, the amusement park’s vice president. “Participating countries this year include China, Ireland, Turkey, Italy, Moldova and Taiwan.”

The jointly owned Shutters on the Beach and Casa Del Mar hotels take that multilingual approach one step further. The hotels’ human resources department maintains a “language bank”-a database of the 35 languages spoken by its roughly 500 full- and part-time staffers. “For instance, we recently ran into some communication issues with guests from Turkey,” says Janet London, director of leisure sales. “We checked the language bank and it turns out a number of our employees speak Turkish and were able to help.”

Ultimately, though, London says the key is learning as much as possible about each guest’s preferences and needs, whether it’s religious dietary restrictions, unusual arrival times or the types of pillows they like. “We just try to ask a lot of questions through the travel agency prior to arrival,” she says. “But that’s something we do for all of our guests, not just the international travelers.”

It seems excellent service goes a long way in any language.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *