The bad news is, COVID-19, or coronavirus, in less than a month, has devastated tourism and the hospitality industry in the Santa Clarita Valley, much like it has throughout the world.
Only one month into a global pandemic, it’s hard to calculate the entirety of the toll this virus will take — but the early signs have been troubling.
“This industry has been hit really hard,” said Jason Crawford, city of Santa Clarita planning, marketing and economic development manager, referring to tourism and hospitality.
The first wave of unemployment resulted in more than 3 million people filing for unemployment in the first week of March, the highest number over that length of time, in U.S. history.
By two weeks later, that number had more than doubled.
In fact, on their website, the financial experts at J.P. Morgan Global Economics Research expect the global economy “to experience an unprecedented contraction during the first half of the year as containment measures are driving deep collapses in monthly economic activity,” at JPMorgan.com.
The good news: Things will get better, and economists think that could start to happen as early as June, likely a little later. And the best news for SCV residents: When that happens, the Santa Clarita Valley is well-positioned to rebound when businesses and the economy start to bounce back.
“Before (the pandemic) things were going really strong in the tourism and hospitality markets here,” Crawford said.
And it’s not coincidental. Santa Clarita uses a coordinated effort to support the local economy with agencies like the Tourism Bureau, partnerships that help draw new business and investment in significant projects in construction, most of which are continuing throughout the shut down as an essential service.
“Business travel and hotel occupancy have increased prior to (the recent coronavirus restrictions),” Crawford said. “And we’d expect to see that continue once we get past this COVID-19 crisis.”
Santa Clarita’s success in attracting hotel and tourism dollars comes from a number of efforts and partnerships, including the Santa Clarita Tourism Bureau, which is a part of the city’s holistic approach to encourage commerce in the city and in the areas in the SCV surrounding city limits all the same.
City officials recognize that there’s much more impact than the 10% Transit Occupancy Tax hotel visitors pay, which benefits the city, or the small additional 2% fee that’s paid by travelers that supports Tourism Bureau efforts, like the city’s summer trolley.
But whether a person stays at a hotel in the city or just outside, there’s still a direct benefit to the local businesses that will be visited, noted Evan Thomason, economic development associate for the city of Santa Clarita.
“It’s really a combination of the business traveler and the sort of recreational tourist,” Thomason said, referring to the city’s primary tourism business. “Six Flags being open year-round has had a positive effect on hotels and overnight stays.”
The city is also looking to attract more weekend sports tournaments, such as softball, golf and swim events.
“We’ve been really targeting these sports tournaments in the fall and winter,” Thomason said, “those are the times when the hotels have been a little less busy, and we’ve been trying to augment that.”
To that end, the city’s Tourism Bureau, which regularly features about three dozen participants at the monthly meeting who range from representatives for the neighboring historic Fillmore and Western Railway Company to management from local hotels to tourism attractions like Magic Mountain and local entertainment spots like Mountasia.
The meetings, which are currently on hiatus due to the pandemic, have helped the industry support itself with shared information, Thomason said, adding one of the realizations that came from the meeting was learning that the city of San Diego and the state of Arizona are the two of the city’s “larger feeder markets,” Thomason said, which helps all of those companies use their outside advertising dollars more efficiently.
“That way we’re able to realize ways to work better together,” Thomason said.
Positioned for success
Although the very short term looks challenging, history and market trends indicate that when the initial surge in coronavirus cases starts to decline or “flatten the curve,” as the experts call it, Santa Clarita is in a great spot to rebound and move ahead.
“I think everybody, right now, we’re in survival mode, but I think when we get to recovery mode, that’s what we’re looking forward to,” Thomason said. “We know the Santa Clarita way of attacking problems.”
There’s a significant amount of investment behind this belief, Crawford said, noting a number of different places for people to stay in the pipeline in the various stages of construction.
“We’re seeing the hotel brand betting on Santa Clarita for the long term by developing these new hotels,” Crawford said, referring to projects spanning from Vista Canyon on the eastern side of the SCV to the developments on the West Side not far from Interstate 5 that’s expected to add more than 700 rooms to the Santa Clarita Valley’s 1,900-or-so room inventory, about half of which is in city limits and half of which is outside.
On the West Side, Thomason said, where there was previously a Best Western and Holiday Express, three hotels are in construction, which is going to add 530 rooms.
The Vista Canyon development in Canyon Country has been approved for 200 rooms, although it’s not yet determined what that will look like. And there’s also the Lexen Hotel in Newhall, a 42-room boutique hotel under construction that’s been part of a successful effort by Santa Clarita City Council to attract businesses to revitalize Newhall. ν