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Tourism Industry's Recovery Loses Some Ground


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By Jorge Casuso

May 6, 2024 -- Santa Monica's tourism industry hit a bump in the road to recovery last year, seeing both the number of visitors and the spending they generated dipping for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown four years ago.

An estimated 4.6 million visitors came to Santa Monica in 2023, down from 5.3 million in 2022, and they spent $938 million, down from $961 million, according to an economic impact report released last week by Santa Monica Travel and Tourism (SMTT).

Santa Monica Visitor Activity

Despite the overall drop, revenues generated by the City's bed tax grew from $59.2 million in 2022 to $62.6 million after voters approved a 1 percent increase in 2022 that kicked in last March.

The tax paid by overnight hotel guests -- the equivalent of $1,392 per Santa Monica household -- helps fund public safety, education, homeless services and the maintenance of local parks and beaches, SMTT officials said.

Meanwhile, retail sales taxes paid by visitors generated $4.166 million last year, down -7.9 percent from 2022.

“The notion of tentative optimism encapsulates our collective mindset –- a balance between hope for brighter days ahead and a pragmatic understanding of the hurdles we still face," said SMTT President/CEO Misti Kerns.

"The past few years have been a testament to our industry’s ability to weather storms, adapt to changing landscapes and emerge stronger and more resilient,” Kerns said at SMTT's annual Tourism Summit on Thursday.

Last year's drop in visitors and spending comes after Santa Monica's tourism industry embarked on a slow road to recovery from a worldwide health emergency that crippled its main staple, international travel.

In Santa Monica, the number of visitors and dollars spent plummeted after the coronavirus shutdown in March 2020 -- from 8.4 million visitors spending $1.89 billion in 2019 to 2 million spending $453.8 million in 2020.

The Report notes that "Santa Monica’s vital tourism industry faced headwinds in 2023 as did other California destinations, with continued softness in international and business demand, and in visitor spending."

While the number of international visitors dipped by -0.7 percent last year -- from 1.125 million in 2022 to 1.117 million -- they spent $366.6 million, an 11 percent rise.

Still, international visitors accounted for 24 percent of all visitors, compared to 51 percent in 2019.

As they have during the recovery, domestic visitors accounted for the lion's share of all visitors -- 75.9 percent -- with 3.520 million coming from the U.S. last year. Of those, nearly a third -- 30.8 percent -- came from California.

Still, the number of domestic visitors decreased last year along with spending, which fell from $631 million in 2022 to $572 million last year.

Of all visitors, first-time visitors and repeat visitors each represented about half of the total and spent an average of $138 per day. Forty-percent of those who visited Santa Monica got around by walking.

Visitor activity and spending supported 7,182 local jobs last year, down from 8,049 jobs in 2022, an -11 percent drop. SMTT officials expect that to change this year, when "a slate of new tourism-serving businesses will open creating additional job opportunities."

They include two new hotel properties -- Sandbourne Santa Monica and Regent Santa Monica Beach -- along with new retail, dining and cultural offerings, including Din Tai Fung at Santa Monica Place and the return of Cirque du Soleil.

More than 200 community members attended SMTT's 15th annual Tourism Summit Thursday at Hotel Casa del Mar.

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