Santa Monica Travel & Tourism (SMTT) presented its “Recovery and Forecast Outlook” reflecting on Santa Monica’s recovery from the economic downturn and a look forward to what the future holds for the seaside community, held virtually via Zoom on Thursday, October 21, 2021.

Leading the program was Misti Kerns, President and CEO, Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, with special guests Sue Himmelrich, Mayor, City of Santa Monica, and David White, City Manager, City of Santa Monica. Danny Trejo, Legendary Actor and Restaurateur of “Trejo Tacos” on Third Street Promenade, joined the tourism summit.

A discussion on what’s been done and what’s to come for Santa Monica was led by a panel of industry experts including Ann Hsing, Chief Operating Officer at Pasjoli; Sam Jagger, General Manager, Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows; Jeff Klocke, Vice President and General Manager at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier; and Julia Ladd, Vice President of Property Management at Macerich.

Joining the panel presentation were several industry professionals including the program’s keynote speaker Caroline Beteta, President and CEO, Visit California, and subject experts Wendy Kheel, Client Manager at Symphony Tourism Economics, and Lauren Schlau, President, Lauren Schlau Consulting, who presented a travel outlook for the United States, California and Santa Monica, along with trends that are impacting domestic and international tourism.

Santa Monica’s successful tourism industry was comprised of 51% international visitors in 2019, which fell to 24.9% in 2020. While increasing international visitation remains the primary objective, a steady tourism recovery in 2021 now focuses on a drive market strategy with reach into California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Florida.

Schlau presented key points from the Santa Monica Visitor profile noting 2021 factors with the 2020 and 2021 market dynamics that COVID-19 triggered including a visitor profile built on U.S. leisure, versus international visitors – historically the majority; a shift that impacted visitor activities, lodging, spending in Santa Monica, and visitor demographics; and visitor volume, spending, generated taxes and supported employment all rebuilding in 2021 from 2020.

Looking to 2022, Schlau added that continued U.S. visitor base – growing international share through the year as the U.S. allows more countries to visit starting in November; rising per-capita and total spending, still well below 2019 but above 2021 levels; destination product improvements in active planning, such as the Santa Monica Pier; continue to encourage overnight and weekday visitation from all markets, and continue to monitor and manage the visitor experience.

One of the first positive indicators for Santa Monica tourism was achieved over Memorial Day weekend that saw hotels experience the highest occupancy since 2019 on Saturday, May 30, 2021, at 90.5%. However, midweek business is still needed to assist in stabilizing occupancy and conference business and international leisure needs to return before that can happen, so a full recovery is not anticipated until 2023-2024.

Schlau continued that 2021 factors of Santa Monica’s lodging industry indicate that supply is now 100% open and back at 2019 levels; demand and occupancy is rebuilding from 2020; demand is strong on weekends due to the leisure segment; excess availability on weekdays due to little business and meeting demand; and hotels able to push room rate, especially on high demand periods; now at nearly 2019 levels to date.

Assumptions for 2022 include increasing demand with more international and business travel; room rates will continue to rise above the inflation rate; and no new supply in 2022 and beyond, although many properties are refurbishing, repositioning and improving product and service – this may result in some guest displacement and higher room rates, during peak periods.

Submitted by Cameron Andrews: Pier Communications