What’s The Forecast (WTF?): Santa Monica Travel & Tourism’s Virtual Event

Posted November 30, 2020

The effects of COVID-19 on the local market are presented, a 43% year-end occupancy rate for 2020 is now projected versus 82.5% for 2019.

SANTA MONICA, Calif., (November 20, 2020) – Nearly 100 members of the tourism community gathered virtually to discover, “WTF? aka What’s The Forecast” for the local hospitality sector to unpack how Santa Monica’s tourism industry will recover in the months and years ahead during Santa Monica Travel & Tourism’s (SMTT) Zoom webinar on November 19.

The latest data and insights were provided by guest speakers Wendy Kheel, Market Research Consultant, Former Vice President of Tourism Insights of Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board; and Lauren Schlau, President, Lauren Schlau Consulting; who are tracking the trends that are impacting domestic and international tourism.

Schlau presented key COVID-19 factors that have impacted Santa Monica in the last eight months including the abrupt halt in the city’s lodging industry, which had enjoyed competitively high occupancy and room rates, while strongly emerging from and sustaining since the 2008-2012 recession until March 2020. Since May, hotel demand has been slowly rebuilding but is expected to take another 3 to 4 years to return to 2019 levels.

In Santa Monica the pandemic has most impacted the international segment, which has comprised about 50% of the city’s visitor volume and over 60% of its total visitor spending. This segment has virtually disappeared and is expected to take the longest to return to visiting the United States. Santa Monica as a destination and its hotels should continue marketing to visitors from Los Angeles, California and the western U.S., encouraging responsible travel with overnight stays until longer-haul markets travel to the city again. SMTT and destination stakeholders can all benefit by continuing to work together for the common good, by optimizing the situation for the short term and considering strategies for the destination experience in Santa Monica now, and into and after 2030.

A review of Santa Monica in 2019 shed insight into the ongoing challenges as Santa Monica tourism was essentially flat but just below the record year of 2018.

A summary of Santa Monica 2019 and 2018 key visitor performance measures:

Indicator 2019 2018
Number % Change
Total Number of Visitors 8,413,100 .2% 8,399,000
Total Annual Visitor Spending $1.89 billion -2.2% $1.93 billion
Hotel Tax Revenue to City (from non-local visitors) $58,315,740 -.5% $58,597,400
Visitor Retail Sales Tax Revenue to City $13,875,500 -4.2% $14,487,400
Equivalent tax per SM household from visitor spend $1,496 -2.9% $1,540
Santa Monica Jobs Supported by Tourism 12,010 -4.4% 12,573


As 2020 began, tourism was maintaining steady growth in Santa Monica, the Los Angeles region, state of California and the world.  However, areas including Santa Monica that are highly dependent on international travel had already seen this segment softening in 2019.

At the start of 2020, the economy, consumer attitudes and other indicators led to expectations of continued strength, with minor slowing, after 7 years of notable growth from the recession. Santa Monica occupancy rates in January and February 2020 were just a shade lower than 2019.

Santa Monica tourism began slowing in late February, began plunging by the end of March and hit bottom in April. It wasn’t until August and September that some upward momentum was realized.

A 43% year-end occupancy rate for 2020 is now projected, versus 82.5% for 2019, which is a 48% drop. January and February 2020 room demand was slightly above 2019 although February was a leap month.

With the lower occupancy coupled with hotel closures starting in April, demand spiraled downward and remained well below 2019 levels. As with past demand crises, the average rate suffered as demand fell.

“The research and reports presented by our speakers provide a stark reality to the challenges Santa Monica businesses and the community have faced in 2020,” said Damien Hirsch, Chairman of the Board, Santa Monica Travel & Tourism.

Looking ahead to 2021, it is forecasted that Santa Monica will start below 2019 and 2020 but after March remain at levels above 2020 and finish the year nearly 60% occupancy, which is in-between 82.5% in 2019 and the 40% to 45% range expected overall for 2020.

Misti Kerns, President/CEO of Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, stated, “As a slow recovery begins to build back and momentum towards worldwide tourism rebounds, we are diligent in our efforts to sustain destination marketing along with a heavy emphasis on safety and cleanliness to protect the quality of life for residents and the quality of experiences for visitors. The better our city works for its residents, the better it works for its visitors. And the better the experience, the more dollars Santa Monica can expect tourists to spend while in our community allowing for the many services provided to those of us who live here.”

During the ‘WTF’ event, Former Vice President of Tourism Insights of Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board Wendy Kheel shared a more global overlook at the pandemic and its overall sentiment and economic impact and recovery efforts for the Travel and Hospitality industry and the United States one of the hardest hit industries.

“Travelers are most concerned about COVID-19 though the economy and the costs of traveling are also factors negatively impacting travel,” said Kheel. “Despite efforts by airlines, hotels and restaurants to address safety concerns, less than 30% of American travelers are traveling or are ready to travel without hesitation. To fully recover, the travel industry needs to restore trust at every point of the travel journey, including airlines, ground transportation, hotels, restaurants and attractions, among others.”

SMTT invites visitors to travel responsibly to and around Santa Monica while enjoying its sun-drenched beach, outdoor dining and unique shopping. Seize the day and stay the night as many Santa Monica hotels are offering packages with experiences for families. To help visitors explore the beachside city during this unique moment in time, new resources are available on how to travel responsibly, hotel safety measures, discounts at local businesses, a personalized vacation planning tool, a KCRW playlist and more at SantaMonicaShines.com.


About Santa Monica Travel & Tourism

Santa Monica Travel & Tourism (SMTT) is a non-profit organization designed to increase visitor expenditures, tourism revenues and local employment opportunities through the promotion of Santa Monica as a travel destination. For more information  visit santamonica.com, email info@santamonica.com, or follow SMTT on Instagram (@SeeSantaMonica), Twitter (@GoSantaMonica) or Facebook (@VisitSantaMonica).

Contact: Kim Sidoriak
Santa Monica Travel & Tourism


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