SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - California tourism officials are quickly stepping in to help Santa Barbara County after the recent Montecito mudflow disaster.
The images of fire and mud damaged properties were shown worldwide countless times and the perception is believed to have been a direct hit that the entire region was damaged due to the December fire and January 9 weather catastrophe.
"I hate to say that we have some experience now," said Visit California President Caroline Beteta.
After going through the massive fires in Santa Rosa and other Northern California communities, however, despite the tragedies and widespread losses, "There are some opportunities," Beteta said to a large group of tourism, restaurant, and hotel executives.
They met Thursday morning at the Hyatt Centric along Cabrillo Boulevard. The event was called a Community Tourism Recovery Forum. Goleta city and economic leaders held a meeting earlier in the week to discuss similar issues and solutions.
The bottom line will be that Santa Barbara and regional destinations are "open for business." That will be featured in TV, radio, magazine and social media messages. The state says it has the funds to "amplify the reach of your message."
One finished ad, that's been on hold due to the emergencies, is going to be modified to include more shots of Santa Barbara County. State leaders said they have the resources and existing ad channels to work "together to hit that message hard." Those in the room agreed that travelers could be part of the recovery efforts
Solvang was a clear indicator on what happens when U.S. Highway 101 is closed off as it was during the mudflow disaster. It was estimated that 70 percent of the business was not getting into the tourist areas of the Santa Ynez Valley. That included tour buses and those coming for the normally popular wine and food region.
Kathy Janega-Dykes from Visit Santa Barbara said during the crisis, her office was closely monitoring the day to day impacts and putting out marketing messages about the region and helping those traveling through the area.
Heavy regional marketing is underway right away in the Los Angeles area. Conferences in Denver and New York will also have locations for the "Visit Santa Barbara" booth. The group says there will be radio "blitzes" in the LA and San Luis Obispo markets to drive regional visits. They will also be working on banner ads and email campaigns. Janega-Dykes said "brighter days are ahead. We will recover."
Mayor Cathy Murillo said businesses impacted by the disasters and freeway closure will be getting some relief in the form of deferred transient occupancy taxes with a payment not required until March, along with no charges for restaurants that normally pay a sidewalk fee for tables and chairs over the last 60 days.
Supervisor Das Williams says there will be a lot of freeway traffic and truck hauling in the area for weeks to come with both public and private projects underway and that will have an impact on travel. He continued to urge alternative transportation and varied work schedules where possible.
On the main route connecting Santa Barbara and Montecito, Sharon Byrne with the Coast Village Association there said many businesses reopening this week in part because water service was resuming. They include Jeannine's, the Honor Bar, Vons, Cava, Los Arroyos, and Starbucks.
Crews were inside Lucky's Thursday getting set to open that landmark restaurant soon as well.
Nearby, the Biltmore Hotel and Montecito Inn remain closed due to impacts and while cleanup projects are underway in full force.
The Inn should be open by mid-February, and the Biltmore will be open in Spring. Full details on those properties will be announced at a later date as the mudflow debris cleanup continues.
The Santa Barbara Regional Chamber of Commerce, Women's Economic Ventures, UC Santa Barbara's Economic Forecast and Visit Santa Barbara are all working on a full-scale economic report that should help with the cost of the disasters, but also with recovery plans or assistance requests.
State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones will be in Ventura and Santa Barbara over the weekend to assess the damage and meet with residents about their claims to ensure they are fully protected where it is required in their policy.