While cruise ship visits have returned to Santa Barbara – with 15 visits this year spring schedule from mid-March to May – local businesses have also seen the return of varying degrees of economic impacts that accompany cruise ship passengers.
The cruise ship program resumed with the first visit on March 16, after being halted for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When cruise ship passengers disembark, the first place they arrive is Landing at sea in Santa Barbara Harbor, where co-owner Jaime Diamond said she often sees passengers returning with bags from nearby restaurants or other stores.
Diamond said some common activities that cruise ship passengers take part in include pre-arranged tours around Santa Barbara or Solvang, wine tastings, whale watching or kayak rentals.
The number of passengers on a cruise ship anchored off Santa Barbara ranges from less than 500 – like the MS Regatta which visited Santa Barbara on Monday – to more than 3,500 passengers.
According to a Economic impact study 2016 driven by Visit Santa Barbaracruise ship tours brought in more than $3.9 million to Santa Barbara, with $1.2 million spent in retail and $1.4 million in restaurants.
Hannah Ponsford, Deputy Director at J. Wilkes Tasting Roomsaid cruise ship visits have significantly boosted business.
“We actually opened at 10 a.m. [instead of noon] cruise days,” Ponsford said. “It was really fun meeting all these different people and sharing our wines.”
She also said that on a normal day, the tasting room usually starts to get busy at 1 or 2 p.m., but on cruise days, peak time starts around noon or even 11:30 a.m., closer to the opening.
“For us, we were able to bring people in earlier when we normally wouldn’t,” Ponsford said.
While some businesses get an economic boost on days when cruise ships visit, others haven’t noticed much of a difference.
“In the beginning, with a few cruise ships, there was a ton of business. There was definitely an influx of people coming in,” said Blake Ekeler, an employee of Surf N’ Wear Beach House. “They don’t necessarily buy a ton of stuff, though; it’s more like little trinkets. So when it comes to numbers, we don’t really notice that much.
Ekeler added that the increase in the number of people outside, as well as a lane closure on Cabrillo Boulevard on those days, is noticeable, but that doesn’t always result in increased business.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a big difference [regarding economic benefit]”, Ekeler said. “I’ve talked to friends who work in the restaurant business and the restaurants don’t really notice either.”
Diamond said while cruise ships tend to provide a quick boost to some businesses, it’s more of a long game — getting passengers back to the area after their cruise.
“For most of these people, it’s their introduction to Santa Barbara, and it makes them want to come back,” Diamond said, adding that several people who visited Santa Barbara on a cruise before the pandemic started coming back, bringing families or friends, towards the end of last year.
Three more cruise ship visits are scheduled before the end of the spring season, including one on Wednesday, with the last cruise ship visit scheduled for May 20.