Cruise Ship Visitation Leaves a Positive Economic Impact on Santa Barbara in its Wake

Survey shows passengers intend to return on their own
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CONTACT: Michelle Rodriguez, Director of Communications
Visit Santa Barbara
805.966.9222 x112, [email protected]
Jaime Shaw, Communications Associate
Visit Santa Barbara
805.966.9222 x107, [email protected]

Survey shows passengers intend to return on their own

Santa Barbara, CA (January 22, 2014) Visit Santa Barbara (VSB) today released their Cruise Ship Passenger Survey and Economic Impact Study, completed by contracted firm Destination Analysts (DA). In 2013, 21 cruise ships visited Santa Barbara bringing over 50,000 passengers to The American Riviera®.  DA conducted over 800 surveys during the September and October 2013 window which saw eleven cruise ship visits and 26,136 passengers coming through the city.  Annualizing the results of the survey across the past calendar year, it is estimated that the cruise ship industry had a $2.4 million dollar economic impact on Santa Barbara, of which $280,000 went to the city in the form of passenger fees and sales tax. The survey also notes that 41% of the passengers who had never been to Santa Barbara before are likely to return within 24 months, which could lead to an additional $6.3 million in direct visitor spending.

Survey results state that restaurants and retail businesses benefit the most from the economic impact cruise ships bring to Santa Barbara, making up 30.5% and 29.2% of the total respectively. This is in line with the activities respondents said they participated in most: shopping (65.7%), sightseeing (64.9%) and dining (42.7%).  It is estimated that 80% of cruise ship passengers disembark, resulting in approximately 40,000 people experiencing Santa Barbara and the surrounding communities first-hand.

“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 non-peak 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. Additionally, the promotional value of being included in the cruise ships’ itineraries and marketing materials, not to mention first-hand exposure, is immense. 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.”

During the economic downturn, City Council Member Frank Hotchkiss saw an opportunity for Santa Barbara to encourage more cruise ship visitation and boost the local economy. Visit Santa Barbara partnered with The Waterfront Department, Santa Barbara Downtown Organization, Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce and Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) to develop a strategy to bring more cruise ships to the city and service them effectively.  Prior to 2011, most years only saw one or two cruise ship visits, with the exception of 2004 (four cruise ships) and 2009 (three cruise ship visits).  VSB has played an essential role in growing cruise ship visitation to The American Riviera® through joining cruise ship association Cruise the West and attending the main industry tradeshow, Cruise Shipping Miami.  Additionally, VSB continues to work with cruise lines to expand their shore excursion offerings serving as liaison for local tour operators.  Through these efforts, local small businesses are given exposure they likely could not achieve on their own.  As a result of the partnership, Princesses Cruises recently contracted with six new companies for a total of eight excursion offers and will consider more in the future.

“Through the help of VSB, the cruise ships that came to Santa Barbara in 2013 afforded my small business an opportunity to reach a new audience and make additional revenue that online marketing, or other types of advertising, may not have generated,” says Eat This, Shoot That! owner Tara Jones. “Since last year, and looking ahead to 2014, we have been able to expand our marketing base and have hosted select groups of guests that are, and will be in the future, a great source of word of mouth marketing for us.”

Not only do cruise ships have a positive direct economic impact on the city, but the cruise ship industry is a valuable tool in generating future visitation to Santa Barbara. Over half of cruise ship passengers (54.4%) in Santa Barbara are first-time visitors, and an impressive 75.8% considered themselves “Very Satisfied” and 20.6%  “Satisfied” with their time in Santa Barbara (96.7% for all passengers). When asked about return visitation, 53.7% of all cruise ship passengers (41% of first time visitors) said they were likely to return to Santa Barbara within the next two years. With over 80% of passengers residing in the US, and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area making up 30.2% of domestic passengers followed by San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont comprising 14.1%, it is very feasible for them to return.

The return visitation of cruise ship passengers can bring millions of additional dollars to the city and hospitality community.  To encourage repeat overnight visitation, VSB has created a microsite geared toward cruise ship passengers ( Destination Analysts created an annualized economic impact model to simulate how much money could be generated if all 41% of first time visitors who said they would return in the next two years actually do so.  The model used suggests that this would generate 11,545 new incremental visitors resulting in $6.3 million in direct visitor spending and $313,132 in new taxes for the City of Santa Barbara over the course of two years.

The full results of the Cruise Passenger Survey and Economic Impact Study can be found at—Report.pdf.

Visit Santa Barbara is a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization jointly funded by the City of Santa Barbara, the County of Santa Barbara, the South Coast Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) and by a membership of hospitality-related busi­nesses. The primary mission of Visit Santa Barbara is to enhance the economies of the City of Santa Barbara, South Coast communities and Santa Barbara County areas through tourism marketing that increases business revenue, tax revenue and creates jobs. Stay informed about Santa Barbara news with our Media Center, press releases and blog,