Destination Analysts Inc. collected 1,801 surveys seeking to understand what attracts visitors to the region.
When more than 1,800 visitors were asked an open-ended question about what attractions or services would enhance their Santa Barbara South Coast experience, the most common response was “nothing,” according to the Travel Outlookpresented Thursday by Visit Santa Barbara.
The study by Destination Analysts Inc. was done for Visit Santa Barbara.
The tourism organization released findings from its 2016-17 Santa Barbara South Coast Visitor Profile and Tourism Economic Impact Study at its annual Travel Outlook event Thursday at the Hotel Californian.
“The news is very positive,” said Visit California President and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes. “It’s incredibly important to collect this data so that we can measure and look at how behaviors change and patterns emerge.
“While the overarching picture is positive, this period is certainly not without challenges. We are dealing with some aggressive panhandlers to maybe a struggling retail industry — but the good news is tourism can and should be part of the solution as we shape the future of our community.”
Erin Francis-Cummings, president and CEO of Destination Analysts Inc., revealed the findings to more than 150 hospitality-industry professionals, community leaders, and city and county officials.
The study says Santa Barbara’s South Coast welcomed an estimated 7.2 million visitors between September 2016 and August 2017, representing an increase compared to 6.1 million travelers in a 2013 study conducted by the San Francisco-based tourism industry research company.
Visitor-related spending contributed $1.9 billion to the local economy, an increase from $1.5 billion in the 2013 study.
“Santa Barbara tourism is rocking,” Francis-Cummings said.
Traveler spending generates $56 million in local annual tax revenues for the communities in the South Coast region, an increase from $46 million in 2013, and supporting more than 13,000 direct jobs and generating a $1,031 annual tax benefit per South Coast household.
The study found that if the tourism industry disappeared, every resident in Santa Barbara’s South Coast region would need to spend an additional $13,241 annually to “maintain current economic standards.”
Francis-Cummings said visitors reported spending an average daily rate of $430.22, compared to $255.75 per day in 2013.
Dining (71.7 percent), going to the beach (55.5 percent) and shopping (42.5 percent) were noted as the most common activities travelers participated in during their trips.
The study shows 12.5 percent of surveyed visitors went wine-tasting in Santa Barbara, an increase from 6.4 percent in 2013.
According to the survey, 23.6 percent of visitors stayed overnight in Santa Barbara area hotels, inns or motels, with day-trippers representing the majority of guests at 69.3 percent.
The highest portion of domestic Santa Barbara visitors live in the Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County metropolitan statistical area at 41.8 percent, followed by the Ventura area with 15.7 percent.
The top out-of-state markets include the metropolitan statistical area of Las Vegas at 1.8 percent and Tucson, Arizona, at 0.8 percent.
The tourism market research firm says two-thirds of visitors surveyed arrived to the South Coast by car.
The second most common method of arrival is by train, up 19.3 percent from 6 percent in 2013, and followed by commercial airline.
The event included a presentation from Peter Kageyama, an author and expert on the relationship between places and people.
Kageyama offered insights on how to create a thriving tourism destination in his keynote presentation titled “For the Love of Santa Barbara.”
The event also featured a panel discussion of CBRE Hotels Managing Director Jeff Lugosi, executive director at Downtown Santa Barbara Maggie Campbell and president and CEO of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce Kristen Miller.
The group discussed future lodging projections, opportunities and challenges in Santa Barbara and the city of Goleta.
Lugosi said the hospitality market is in the midst of a seven-year upward cycle.
“We don’t see any signs of it slowing down — there’s nothing economically on the horizon that’s going to shut down the hotel industry,” Lugosi said. “People are going to continue to travel. We see positive signs.”
Ryan Parker, general manager at the hotel Canary Santa Barbara, moderated the dialogue.
The two-hour event was followed by a cocktail reception at the Hotel Californian.