Visitors Spent $2.24 Billion in Santa Barbara South Coast Last Year

Approximately 6.5 million tourists visited the Santa Barbara South Coast in 2023, according to a economic impact study released earlier this month by Visit Santa Barbara.

The study also revealed the tourists spent approximately $2.24 billion and the local tourism industry generated $82.9 million in local tax revenue.

Dave Bratton, founder of the market-research firm Future Partners who compiled the study data, stated of the 6.5 million visitors to the region, 96% said it was a highly satisfactory experience, 36% stayed overnight, and 80% said they’ll return.

The data was based on interviews with 1,700 visitors to the region, Bratton said.

Air travel had a significant impact tourism with the majority being from outside California. The Visitor Profile included in the economic impact study showed that 4% of tourists arriving through the Santa Barbara Airport (SBA), 4% were international. Of the domestic travelers, 70% were from outside the state.

Increased tourism through SBA is expected as Delta Airlines returns to the local airport this coming June with nonstop, roundtrip flights between Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

The report also showed that tourism from the 47,400 cruise ship passengers totaled approximately $3.2 million.

The study also highlighted that the main reason for travelers’ visits to the area was for vacation, with top activities being visits to restaurants, shopping, State Street Promenade, Stearns Wharf, and beaches.

The primary reason for visiting the region was mostly vacation followed by a weekend getaway,  then visiting friends/relatives, business travel, weddings, and festivals.

Overall the top five areas where visitors came from were largely Los Angeles, followed by Santa Maria/San Luis Obispo, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto.

Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor of Travelzoo, gave some insights on travel trends during the Tourism Summit. He suggested that the Santa Barbara travel industry needs to work on strategies to keep the day-trip visitors to stay overnight and aim to figure out how to attract more tourists to stay for extended periods.

The study showed that about 64% of the 6.5 million visitors were visiting the area for the day.

“I feel like we have seen a positive movement every year since the pandemic,” said Saglie, “we continue to exit from the pandemic. Every year shows us a more robust appetite and enthusiasm around travel.”

Saglie expects the top five travel trends for the year to revolve around wellness, sustainability, culinary travel, shoulder-season travel, and travelers seeking for outdoor adventures.

The economic impact study highlighted the contributions of the tourism industry in Santa Barbara South Coast, underlining the potential for continuous growth in this sector of the local economy.

“We are very optimistic for 2024,” said Visit Santa Barbara President and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes, “through our research we are seeing that more people have booked hotel reservation in 2024, than they have in 2023. We are very fortunate that Santa Barbara draws visitors from nearby destinations.”


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  1. And to still think there are those who still insist on bashing cruise ships. Besides property owners, just who do you think pays for all the lefty entitlements and giveaways? Encouraging this from people out of our area and country to come live here, on our dime is not cheap!

    • I’m having a hard time following what point you’re trying to make. The projected cruise ship income (which how can they know this for sure?) is a mere fraction of the total estimated revenue. And it doesn’t take into account what the city pays to be on that cruise destination list. When I see that number I think.. is it really worth it? They sleep and eat on the floating boat and MAYBE buy a keychain or beer and off they go.

      And by “lefty entitlements and giveaways” and people coming to live here on our dime… are you now talking about the nationwide homeless crisis and blaming it on democrats? Seems like you’re conflating a lot of issues at once, it’s hard to follow.

    • I suppose we could do as the GOP do, and bus all the homeless people to republican led states and cities. But nah… we have a conscience and morality and ethics and view them as human beings who deserve support and care because we found that if you can effectively provide services for these HUMANS the overall costs will decrease. If only the GOP senators and Reps can get off their butt and start passing legislation.

  2. Two and a quarter billion dollars is a lot of money for our area! It works out to about 344 dollars spent per visitor. I’d LOVE to see a follow up about how the 83 million in tax revenue is used to help our city.

  3. This number could be increased by 25% if they would finish the 101 project. Many more visitors would come if they could just get here. Let’s put pressure on them to speed it up. 3 years to improve 5 miles is laughable.

  4. I am curious about that cruise ship number. Many days, I see passengers getting off the boat and walking up State Street at 8:30, 9 o’clock in the morning. Many things do not open until 11 o’clock. Where are they spending their money? Or does the number reflect people going on tours and not actually going into stores and spending money. On cruise ship mornings, I see lots of people at Starbucks and CVS.

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