Tourism continues to be a boon to the local economy, according to figures presented by Santa Monica Travel and Tourism this week.
Santa Monica Travel and Tourism is a private non-profit corporation funded by a tourism marketing district and the City of Santa Monica’s general fund. The organization exists to promote Santa Monica as a travel destination and their annual presentation includes updates on the health of the tourism business.
About 8.3 million visitors came to the city last year (with a visitor defined as someone from outside Los Angeles County entering the city, but excluding those who do so for regular work or school), an increase of 5.3 percent from last year.
International visitors account for about 48.2 percent of total visitors and 56 percent of total spending.
The city’s largest international markets are Australia/New Zealand (11.4 percent), England (7.4 percent), Germany (7.2 percent), Eastern Canada (6.1 percent) and the Asia Pacific region (5.6 percent).
Domestic visitors come from California (32 percent), New York (7 percent), Arizona (7 percent), Nevada (6 percent) and Texas (5 percent).
The average length of stay decreased slightly from 1.44 days to 1.41 days, but total annual visitor spending increased 6.8 percent from $1.71 billion to $1.84 billion; and the industry supports about 13,500 tourism jobs, a slight decrease from 13,700 in 2014.
The Transit Occupancy Tax, paid by hotel guests, increased by 2.5 percent to $46.6 million and goes directly to the city’s General Fund. Retail sales tax generated by visitors increased $12.4 percent to $11.9 million.
A majority of visitor spending occurs through shopping (41.9 percent), followed by lodging (20.8 percent) and meals (19.7 percent).
SMTT said those taxes pay for a variety of city services and local households would have to contribute an additional $1,220 to cover the cost of city services if the tourism dollars were taken away.
Hotel visitors spend about $359 per day, while day visitors spend about $94.
“Visitors spend money in our hotels and our nightclub venues,” said SMTT president and CEO Misti Kerns. “They fill seats in our restaurants and they tour our galleries and museums, they book activities, they rent, and re-rent, thank goodness, our bicycles and they shop. The taxable revenue from visitor retail spending alone generated $12 million dollars to our city’s general fund in 2015 and most importantly, those visitors walk. How many? 76.2 percent of visitors once they’ve arrived in Santa Monica do not get into a vehicle, that’s a 4 percent increase from last year.”
Kerns said the tourism industry is a source of local jobs and that her organization continues to strive toward preservation of those jobs as a means of supporting the city’s larger economic engine.
“To continue the stewardship of these tourists and their ample spending power is a fundamental element to maintaining economic vitality and services in our city.”
SMTT conducts outreach and marketing campaigns in targeted areas, but the organization also sponsors local programs. According to the annual report, SMTT’s “I Am Santa Monica” program has certified more than 2,800 Santa Monica Ambassadors since its inception. Those individuals attend a 3-hour workshop designed to inform and educate participants about the city with a focus on customer service and hospitality training. SMTT organizes periodic roundtables on the tourism industry, organizes Eat Well Week to recognize local restaurants and works with local hotels on the Extra Bedroom program that provides discounted hotel rates to friends/family of Santa Monica residents during the holiday season.
Their local efforts include a visitor center on Main Street, a visitor center and gift shop on the Pier, an information kiosk on Ocean Avenue, an information cart on the Promenade and a mobile visitor center.
SMTT has a 16 person staff.