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Tourists Spend Time and Money Downtown

By Ed Moosbrugger

August 1 -- Santa Monica's strategy of focusing its tourist promotion efforts on international and overnight visitors continues to pay dividends for Downtown, as reflected in where these visitors spend their time and money.

Ninety-four percent of international visitors to Santa Monica go to the Third Street Promenade/Downtown, which is higher than for any other group of visitors, according to survey results from the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Some 89.5 percent of hotel guests and 90 percent of guests at private residences visit the Promenade/Downtown.

By comparison, 87.5 percent of total visitors frequent the area, which is the most popular attraction for visitors.

The nearby Santa Monica Pier/Pacific Park ranked second in appeal at 82.5 percent, followed by Santa Monica Place at 56.8 percent and Santa Monica Beach at 55.3 percent.

A visitor is defined as someone who lives outside Los Angeles County who is visiting Santa Monica for the day or overnight for leisure, business, a meeting or a special event, but not for regular work or to attend school.

Santa Monica has an appeal beyond its natural attractions.

“The number one thing people liked about Santa Monica was the people,” said Misti Kerns, president/CEO of the Santa Monica CVB. “They get here and find it is friendly and has a sort of small town feel.”

That means that what businesses and their employees do can have a big impact on capturing business by encouraging people to stay longer or come back again.

Indeed, Kerns reported that the bureau is working with the City and Chamber of Commerce to develop a customer relations and diversity awareness training program.

The program can be especially important in helping to serve international visitors better, and that is vital because they account for 58 percent of visitor spending in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica had 4.74 million visitors in 2004, up from 3.81 million in 2000. Total visitor spending was $840.6 million in 2004, compared to $787.9 million in 2000, the last year before 9/11 hit the travel industry hard.

“I am sure it will be much higher in 2005,” Kerns said.

Through the first five months of 2005, Santa Monica’s hotel occupancy rate dipped 0.5 percent to 77 percent, while the average daily room rate increased 6.7 percent to $220.26, according to a report by PKF Consulting. Hotels generally expect a solid summer.

Kerns said she’s glad the bureau made the hard decision after 9/11 to stick with its international strategy and focus on the overnight visitors when many other areas changed and shifted their focus to regional markets.

The bureau reported that a rebound of business and international travelers, who accounted for much of the increased spending, is now generating more overnight hotel bookings.

“Hotel guests are spending more and walking or using our public transportation system, a perfect formula for this destination,” noted Tim Kittleson, chairman of the Santa Monica CVB board of directors.

Kerns is enthusiastic about the new Rapid 3 express Big Blue Bus service linking Santa Monica and LAX’s Transit Center. She thinks international visitors will be especially open to using the buses, which have luggage racks.

The Promenade/Downtown has shown strong staying power in appealing to visitors. Some 88.6 percent of first-time visitors come there, and this drops off only slightly to 86.4 percent for past visitors.

In contrast, while 91 percent of first-time visitors go the Santa Monica Pier/Pacific Park, this drops to 74.4 percent for past visitors.

Hotel visitors are the main prize for businesses. While they accounted for only 11 percent of all visitors, they racked up 49 percent of the spending.

Visitors staying with friends or relatives made up 4 percent of all visitors, but 16 percent of the spending. Day visitors accounted for 85 percent of the visitors and 35 percent of the spending.

The spending patterns by visitors offer great potential for a variety of Downtown businesses. Number one in expenditures: $242.9 million for shopping/gifts. Next came meals out ($196.1 million), lodging ($188.4 million), beverages ($80.6 million) and transportation ($69.3 million). An emerging category with strong representation Downtown is health/spa, at $14 million.

The numbers reported in this column are from CVB studies for 2003 and 2004.

A one-page fact sheet of the 2004 Economic Impact Update is available at no charge from the Santa Monica CVB and a study summary can be purchased for $100. To buy a bound copy, contact Mindy Lansing at 310.319.6263 or email mlansing@santamonica.com.

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