News Tourism & Hospitality

New guidelines may help struggling local tourism-hospitality industry – Santa Cruz Sentinel


The signs of life that appeared over the last week are encouraging. Local beaches and parks are seeing an even greater influx of visitors as Spring Break fever has gripped many families who are beyond weary of staying at home over the past 13 months.

And now, the state of California is finally issuing guidelines and regulations that could allow the tourism and hospitality industry in Santa Cruz County to safely bring back more visitors and employees.

Why is this important?

Even though the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has reopened many of its rides, and even with relaxed COVID-19 regulations for Santa Cruz County, tourism-hospitality has a long road ahead return to financial health. According to Visit Santa Cruz CEO Maggie Ivy, visitor spending in the county totaled more than $1.1 billion in 2019 and the tourism-hospitality industry employed more than 15,000 people locally. But in the worst months of the pandemic, the local tourism agency had to put out a message that was more “Don’t Visit Santa Cruz” to comply with local and state restrictions.

Statewide, tourism spending plunged by as much as 50% and hotels, restaurants and entertainment attractions were forced to lay off work forces. At the same time, many businesses had to spend extensively to set up safety precautions – and train employees to police social distancing and mask wearing.

But the drop off goes even deeper. The local lodging tax, for instance, brought in more than $20 million in tax revenue to local cities and the county — revenue that has been critical to provide local services.

In an Op Ed, Ivy advocates for the federal Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act, which would provide tax credits that would help bring back business meetings and conventions, business travel, entertainment venues, and restaurants. Without Congressional approval, Ivy writes, it will take at least five years for the industry to recover.

Santa Cruz’s Dream Inn, overlooking Cowell Beach, the Municipal Wharf and the Boardwalk, is a case in point.

In a recent meeting with the Sentinel Editorial Board, Darren Pound, Vice President and General Manager of the Dream Inn, said that the hotel and restaurant complex employed about 230 full-time and part-time workers pre-COVID-19; but employment dropped to a low of about 30 and is back to between 140-150 workers now. But the Dream Inn is having trouble ramping up hiring even more — with UCSC students mostly taking remote classes, and stimulus payments and extended and expanded unemployment benefits keeping other workers at home.

While the Dream Inn has been highly creative in finding ways to bring in visitors and optimizing their experiences – such as “vertical concerts” with bands stationed on the pool deck and booked guests watching and listening from hotel suites – other essential services such as business meetings have faltered as Silicon Valley firms have cut back or eliminated travel and in-person meetings. Also, weddings have been severely restricted in terms of guests and receptions.

What’s added to the strain are on-again, off-again tier restrictions and a lack of guidance on group events.

So it should help that last Friday, the California Department of Public Health announced a further loosening of reopening rules allowing indoor concerts and other performances in Santa Cruz County –with similar rules for conferences, weddings and other gatherings – with attendance capped between 100 and 200. The new rules go into effect April 15.

But there are conditions. Large indoor events, for example, will only be “allowed if all guests are tested or show full proof of vaccination.”

That may add fuel to the fire of the heated debate over the need for “vaccine passports” and further the divide between those who are fully vaccinated, and those who aren’t.

But the chance to again stage business meetings, attend weddings or go to concerts and to get off Zoom should be an impetus for the anti-vaccine crowd to sign up for a shot.

And let’s also hope clear guidelines, despite the limitations, will help revive a vital industry in our county.


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