By Ed Moosbrugger
July 13 -- Santa Monica’s visitor industry
was strong and steady entering the peak summer tourist season,
with prospects for more of the same with a little boost from
a video game industry business event.
Local hotels had been expected to show moderate revenue growth
after a strong 2006 and that’s what they are getting.
“Tourism in Santa Monica has been very healthy this
year,” said Misti Kerns, president/CEO of the Santa
Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau.
She expects the same for the summer.
“As a beachside community summer has historically been
our peak season,” Kerns said in mid June. “This
year’s outlook is strong as well. Many of our hotels
are already booked for July and August.”
Santa Monica hotels entered summer on solid ground. For the
first four months of 2007, the occupancy rate was 82 percent,
well above the Los Angeles County rate of 77.2 percent and
the highest for any submarket within the county tracked by
PKF Consulting. Santa Monica’s occupancy rate was even
with a year earlier.
Meanwhile, the average room rate in the city jumped 9 percent
to $264.98, indicating that demand is strong enough to command
solid rate increases.
Revenue at the Best Western Ocean View Hotel on Ocean Avenue
is up about 10 percent this year and “it looks like
it is going to be a hot summer,” said General Manager
The E3 Media and Business Summit this month (July 11-13) should
The event, presented by the Entertainment Software Association,
is expected to bring approximately 3,000 people to Santa Monica,
with an estimated economic impact of about $7 million, Kerns
“E3 is helping rates and occupancy,” Farzam said.
Meanwhile, Downtown Santa Monica hotels are acting to keep
The Hotel Shangri-La on Ocean Avenue, for example, closed
its doors in December for a major renovation and plans to
reopen in spring of 2008, said General Manager Dino Nanni.
The Farzam family, who owns the Best Western Ocean View, is
also moving forward with its plans to replace the Pacific
Sands and Travelodge motels on Ocean Avenue with a larger,
moderately priced motel.
Such investments seem likely to pay off.
“Our hotels are so healthy now,” Kerns said.
But while the overall outlook is solid, a potential trouble
spot may be developing. A declining percentage of Santa Monica’s
visitors are international travelers.
Santa Monica is “seeing a slight downturn in the percentage
of international arrivals,” Kerns said. That’s
of concern because “this customer tends to stay longer,
use public transportation and walk,” which creates less
traffic impact, she said.
Trends in international markets are especially important to
Santa Monica because “we are far more dependent on foreign
travelers than many other destinations,” Kerns said.
The possible shift in the market showed up in quarterly reports
for summer and fall of 2006 that will form part of the basis
for the triennial Santa Monica visitor industry economic impact
report expected to be released by the bureau this fall. The
new quarterly reports will help the bureau assess seasonal
Lauren Schlau, whose firm is doing the research for the bureau,
expects the trend of a lesser percentage of international
visitors to carry through for the remaining two quarters of
“This is a whole Los Angeles problem,” Schlau
said. “This has long- term implications.” For
one thing, she said, more international flights are bypassing
Los Angeles International Airport.
On the plus side, the weak dollar makes travel to the United
States attractive. On the down side, issues such as visa problems,
insufficient marketing, customer service and language are
“The U.S. reputation is not as positive as it has been
in the past,” Kerns noted.
For Santa Monica to maintain a favorable balance of international
visitors “a larger investment in our top producing markets
as well as the emerging international markets will be needed,”
For budget reasons, Santa Monica CVB has been targeting English
speaking countries and is expanding its marketing to Ireland
Fortunately, the declining percentage of foreign visitors
doesn’t necessarily mean that tourism is down.
“Visitorship has grown,” Kerns said. “It
has grown more on the domestic side.”
It will take more analysis to determine what impact shifting
markets will have on Santa Monica.
With summer looking good, the visitors bureau now is focusing
on encouraging more fall/winter visitation.
The survey by Schlau indicated that a fall visitor actually
spends more time and money than a summer visitor while in
Santa Monica, offers more of a business focus vs. leisure,
and entertains more, Kerns said. There is also a much higher
repeat visitation than among summer travelers.
Reflecting the importance of keeping visitors happy so they
will return, the bureau will launch a customer service and
diversity training program at Santa Monica College in partnership
with the City, Chamber of Commerce and SMC.
Pilot classes are expected in the fall.
Editor's note: This article also ran in the Bayside Beat,
the monthly newsletter of the Bayside District Corporation.