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Criticism for Santa Barbara's 'Open for Travel' campaign

A July 8 screenshot of Visit Santa Barbara's website, encouraging summer tourism.

Since mid-June, Santa Barbara’s tourism marketing branch has been advertising the city as “Open for Travel,” an action which has brought some criticism.

Visit Santa Barbara—a destination marketing organization for its namesake city—began promoting Santa Barbara as a travel destination on June 12, when the county allowed for hotels to take in leisure travelers.

“We have focused on encouraging safe and responsible tourism and we have slowly returned to marketing the region with decreased funding,” said Kathy

Kathy Janega-Dykes is the president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara. She said many hotels are operating below capacity for the time being, and her organization is encouraging travelers to take advantage of outdoor spaces in the city.

Meanwhile, city councilmember Oscar Gutierrez said he’s had correspondence with many citizens expressing their disapproval of both Visit Santa Barbara’s marketing and the city’s attempted return to normalcy. Visit Santa Barbara receives funding from the city to attract tourists.

Lindsay Coony and Taylor Howard are both Santa Barbara residents. They voiced their concern about Visit Santa Barbara’s renewed focus on attracting visitors on Reddit, a platform which some citizens have turned to as an information resource and discussion board during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A large portion of the people that travel to Santa Barbara come from Southern California, which is great typically, except that their virus numbers are much higher than ours right now and in general during a pandemic travel is not ideal,” Coony said. “So having the city or the county say ‘Hey everyone, come up here,’ I was like ‘Oh my god, please don’t do that.’

“My family owns a store on State Street so we do depend on having tourists come in and buying things in our store, but I also believe that the city has done this prematurely and now it’s risking the health of everyone that lives here full time,” Howard said.

COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County continue to rise, adding over 1300 in the last two weeks, according to the California Department of Public Health—a 50% increase.

Gutierrez said there’s been some unofficial talks of having to reclose parts of the city because of the spikes, but he also said that decision will ultimately come from the county. And that he’s worried for the health of Santa Barbara residents if the city stays open, but that the businesses of Santa Barbara also may not survive a second shutdown.

“It’s kinda like a mixed feeling of ‘Ok, let’s open our city back up to tourism,’ but also there’s this overwhelming sense of worry as to whether it’s the right thing to do,” Gutierrez said.

Santa Barbara most recently shut down its beaches for the Independence Day weekend, an action directed by the state due to Santa Barbara County exceeding public health thresholds for reopening.

Sean Flannelly is a journalist and student at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He previously reported for KPFA Radio in Berkeley, California, and served as his student newspaper's sole podcast editor. Outside of the newsroom, he can be found hiking, climbing and camping his way around California.
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