Santa Barbara set to end two-year cruise ship stall

Just over two years after the last cruise ship anchored offshore on March 4, 2020, the Santa Barbara City Council is taking action to end the temporary ban on such tours and resume the program that generated hundreds of thousands of direct revenues per year and millions of additional dollars. tourism expenditure.

Waterfront manager Mike Wiltshire and administrative analyst Chris Bell, who oversees the cruise ship program, presented the council with the facts about exactly what the town has been missing over the past two years and what the cruise tours with COVID safety protocols.

Bell said that according to a 2013 survey, Santa Barbara’s cruise ship program had an impact on the city of $2.4 million — of which $280,000 went directly to city coffers through the passenger fees and sales tax – and more than $6 million in visitor spending at shops and restaurants.

All tours had been temporarily halted two years ago, after the CDC issued a “no veil” order on March 14, 2020, due to COVID-19 resulting in the cancellation of 45 calls.

On March 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered the county’s COVID-19 community level — a new metric unveiled last month to help communities decide what preventative measures to take based on their latest COVID data — from medium to low, reflecting the county. recent decline in hospital bed utilization, hospital admissions and total number of new COVID-19 cases.

With COVID numbers declining throughout the county, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department worked with the city to come up with protocols that would allow cruise ships to return safely.

Passengers must be fully immunized or provide a negative test result within 24 hours of arriving ashore for the tour. Cruise lines must also follow the CDC’s COVID-19 program, and all captains must sign a separate agreement with the city to comply with any green guidelines affecting Santa Barbara waters. Cruise ships must dock one mile offshore and cannot discharge “waste, sewage or gray water” within 12 nautical miles of Santa Barbara.

Bell said most of the new ships are hybrid designs and are greener and more fuel efficient than before 2020. Board member Kristen Sneddon, however, expressed concern even though she realized the rest of the board was in favour. “I would just like to phase out those visits,” Sneddon said. “I think there are bigger environmental concerns about not promoting this as a means of income.”

Most of the other council members who spoke, and members of the public who dialed in on Zoom to comment, were in favor of bringing the program back and the economic spark it would provide in the tourism sector.

The Waterfront Department already has 31 planned stopovers in 2022, a total of 56,000 passengers, and 27 planned for the following year. Wiltshire also noted that without the tours, the waterfront would have to offset that $500,000 in revenue elsewhere, which could mean higher slip fees and parking prices.

When the first ships began arriving in 2002, only eight had visited by 2007. But things accelerated over the next two decades, with 200 ships making Santa Barbara a port of call. From 2014 to 2017, approximately 28 ships arrived each year.

The ships typically carry between 200 and 3,500 passengers, with the Waterfront Department charging $7 per passenger. “These revenues represent a significant portion of the waterfront budget,” Bell said.

“With the economy, I just don’t see an alternative that would be acceptable to the public if we didn’t have that revenue,” council member Eric Friedman said.

Although the council did not vote, as the presentation was intended to be informative, several of the council members – with the exception of Sneddon – were in favor of moving forward. Mayor Randy Rowse concluded by addressing concerns about ecological impacts, saying visitors would come without the emissions of hundreds of cars.

“The way I look at it is this: There are a lot of people visiting Santa Barbara who haven’t taken the 101 and are coming here to do so,” Rowse said. “It’s a great way to show off the city; if anyone has ever seen this city from the ocean you will understand how special this view really is.”

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