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Santa Monica Tourism on Road to Recovery, Industry Officials Say

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By Jorge Casuso

May 10, 2022 -- Santa Monica's tourism industry is bouncing back from the coronavirus shutdown but must bring back international visitors before it can fully recover, tourism officials said at a summit last week.

A key driver of the local economy, tourism logged dramatic increases in the number of visitors and the amount of money they spent last year, according to data from Santa Monica Travel & Tourism (SMTT).

More than 3.5 million people visited the city in 2021, up from some 2 million in 2020, and spent nearly $750.23 million, up from about $453.8 million, according to the data released at SMTT's 13th annual summit last Wednesday.

But the number of visitors last year marked a dramatic 72.5 percent drop from the 8.4 million visitors to Santa Monica in 2019, and they spent 65.3 percent less than the $1.89 billion spent in 2019.

That was largely due to a crippled international travel industry that saw the percentage of foreign visitors to Santa Monica plummet -- from more than half of the total visitors in 2019 to less than 10 percent last year.

“Bringing international travel back to Santa Monica is crucial to the overall recovery process in 2022 and beyond,” said Albin Gielicz, who is chair of SMTT's board.

"It’s also incumbent on Santa Monica as a destination to continue to target the drive market and recapture the meetings and events business to support Santa Monica tourism.”

If fact, it was U.S. visitors who kept the local tourism industry going during the pandemic, according to the data.

While the percentage of international visitors fell dramatically, the percentage of visitors from states other than California doubled -- from 30 percent in 2019 to 60 percent last year. Meanwhile visitors from California rose from 19 to 30 percent, according to the data.

The increase in domestic visitors was largely due to a "drive market strategy with reach into California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Florida," tourism officials said.

Among other top "feeder states" were New York, Illinois, Washington, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The data also show that visitor spending supported 5,747 local jobs last year, an 86 percent increase from the 3,100 jobs in 2020, and boosted retail sales tax revenue to the City from $3.09 million to 3.73 million.

Still, that represented a precipitous drop from the $13.875 generated in 2019, when the lucrative international market was thriving.

“The research shows and the trends indicate that Santa Monica is headed in the right direction after two very challenging years trying to sustain and grow tourism in our city,” said City Manager David White.

“We continue to monitor current events and look optimistically toward an increase in visitors and a rebound for local businesses,” White said.

Tourism officials said the recovery will remain steady "if COVID stays contained, countries open for out-bound tourism and consumers trust that they can travel safely."

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