Cruise ship passengers infused more than $2 million into Santa Barbara’s economy last year, and local officials hope the visitors — and accompanying cash — will keep coming.
Restaurants and retailers benefited most from the ocean-going visitors, according to a recently released Visit Santa Barbara study analyzing the cruise ships’ local economic impact.
The tourism organization also announced results of a related passenger survey, both of which were conducted by Destination Analysts, a San Francisco-based marketing and research company.
News of the economic boost comes as Santa Barbara kicks off its busiest cruise ship season to-date — a fact some locals view as more bothersome than beneficial.
The second of nearly 30 luxury liners set to drop anchor this year is due to arrive Wednesday.
Whatever one’s opinion, the new study shows clear incentives to drawing thousands of visitors in via the Pacific.
More than 50,000 passengers came to port aboard 21 cruise ships in 2013 and spent $2.4 million, including $280,000 in passenger fees and sales tax to the city, according to the study.
Restaurants raked in $739,483 from travelers, with retailers banking $708,047 and entertainment and sightseeing taking in $170,775.
The money trail mirrors responses of the passenger survey, which was based on 800 questionnaires collected during September and October of last year, when 11 cruise ships and 26,136 passengers visited the city.
Most visitors said they enjoyed restaurants and retail shops — 30.5 percent and 29.2 percent, respectively — and the pedestrian-friendly environment. Shopping clocked in as the most popular activity (65.7 percent), with sightseeing second (64.9 percent) and dining third (42.7 percent).
A majority of passengers traveled on an MTD shuttle, with most checking out Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Harbor, guided city tours and wine tasting. Museums and galleries and the Santa Barbara Zoo drew smaller numbers.
About 80 percent of passengers were U.S. residents, and a majority of all visitors — nearly 96 percent — were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with what they chose to do.
Visit Santa Barbara officials were especially excited that 41 percent of first-time Santa Barbara tourists, which are more than half of all passengers, said they would likely return within two years — potentially leading to another $6.3 million in direct spending.
“The cruise ship industry has proven vital to the Santa Barbara South Coast economy,” said Visit Santa Barbara president and CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes. “Cruise ships come during nonpeak travel seasons — a time that is crucial to economic growth within our industry. Indeed, the recent cruise ship survey shows that Santa Barbara County has seen an economic boost thanks to passenger spending and city taxes paid by visiting ships.
“This money goes back into the economy, driving revenue to restaurants, attractions and tour operators.”
Survey results were touted by the tourism organization, which partnered with the city’s Waterfront Department, the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization, the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce and MTD at the direction of the City Council to devise a plan to attract — and effectively serve — more cruise ships.
Before 2011, locals saw only one or two cruise ship visits most years, with the exception of 2004 (four) and 2009 (three).
“Additionally, the promotional value of being included in the cruise ships’ itineraries and marketing materials, not to mention first-hand exposure, is immense,” Janega-Dykes said.
“At Visit Santa Barbara, our focus is targeting repeat visitation by these passengers — a promising effort according to the survey, which shows impressive results of repeat prospects, translating into future travel and tourism dollars for our community.”
Because more than half of all visitors said they’d soon return, and to encourage repeat overnight stays, Visit Santa Barbara created a website geared toward cruise ship passengers.
Click here to view full results of the study and passenger survey.