Santa Monica Daily Press – Op-Ed
Tourism Talks Column

By Misti Kerns

Travel’s ability to bounce back after periods of economic hardship—and inject much-needed jobs and revenue directly into Santa Monica’s economy—is why the theme of this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW) is the Power of Travel.

NTTW (May 2-8), the 38th annual celebration of the U.S. travel industry’s contributions, is an opportunity to remind us of the incredible value the travel industry holds not just for our local economy and workforce, but to our community’s identity and culture—and to remind policymakers of travel’s ability to help power recovery efforts.

Travel and tourism is such an important part of who we are as a community. One need only to recall how visitors to our destination delighted in visits to our eight great and distinct neighborhoods including stops at the Ferris wheel at Pacific Park, the Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, Montana Avenue, Main Street, Pico Blvd., and so much more.

Before the pandemic, Santa Monica enjoyed total annual visitor spending of approximately $1.89 billion, hotel tax revenue to the city of approximately $58 million, and jobs supported by tourism were at a record high of 12,000. Nationally, travel generated $2.6 trillion in economic output, supported 17 million American jobs and delivered a $51 billion trade surplus to the U.S. in 2019.

However, this vital revenue source stemming from business and leisure travelers was severely diminished. In 2020, the entire U.S. travel industry lost half a trillion dollars in travel-related spending—10 times the economic impact of 9/11. Nationally, total travel-supported jobs accounted for a staggering 65% of all U.S. jobs lost amid the pandemic. Santa Monica experienced a 76% decline in total annual visitor spending to approximately $454 million, a 67.9% decline in hotel tax revenue to the city to approximately $19 million, and a decline of 74% of jobs supported by tourism to about 3,000.

With such disparate losses, it is clear that a broader economic recovery hinges on a recovery within the travel industry. While the rapid pace of vaccinations has provided hope that a return to normal is on the horizon, a resurgence in travel demand is not inevitable. Without aggressive federal action to reopen the travel economy and spur demand, the travel industry’s recovery is expected to take as long as five years—far too long to wait for the workers whose livelihoods depend on this vital industry.

But with the right measures in place, we will get people moving again in a safe, healthy and responsible way, restore our work force, while helping to build a broader economic recovery. The travel industry needs sustained relief to ensure businesses can maintain operation and workers can stay on payrolls until sustained demand can truly take hold.

Importantly, policymakers must also identify the path to reopening our borders and safely restarting international inbound travel, which represents 50% of our visitors here to Santa Monica as well as restarting professional meetings and events; these are crucial segments of our local economy, without which we cannot fully recover. This means we in the tourism industry must ask visitors – including California residents – to respect our communities, our environment, our businesses, and the fellow travelers and locals they meet along the way. They should plan to take several new precautions, but they should also be excited to experience travel again – spending time with loved ones, creating new memories, and enjoying the communities and great experiences that Santa Monica has to offer.

The road ahead will be challenging, but the travel industry is resilient and has an incredible ability to bounce back from hard times. Santa Monica is strong, we recovered after the downtown Farmers Market and Santa Monica College tragedies, and 1994 Northridge earthquake, after 9/11, after the 2008 financial meltdown, and after health scares such as Zika, Ebola and SARS. This is the toughest challenge Santa Monica and the U.S. travel industry has ever faced, but we know that is one of the best-equipped industries to lead a revival.

If lawmakers act now to jump start recovery efforts and get Americans safely moving again, then all of us in Santa Monica can get back to doing what we do best more quickly providing quality job opportunities for Americans of all background, reconnecting family and friends, and showing the world what makes the U.S. and my hometown the best place to visit.

About Santa Monica Travel & Tourism

Santa Monica Travel & Tourism (SMTT) works to strengthen our local economy by enhancing and promoting our communities as a distinctive, compelling and welcoming travel destination. For more information visit santamonica.com, email info@santamonica.com, or follow SMTT on Instagram (@SeeSantaMonica), Twitter (@GoSantaMonica) or Facebook (@VisitSantaMonica).