Santa Barbara hotels say spill hasn’t hurt business; 2 beaches closed

Diego Topete, left and Ryan Cullom walk May 19 on the oil-coated Refugio State Beach.

Diego Topete, left and Ryan Cullom walk May 19 on the oil-coated Refugio State Beach.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

As crews clean up a 21,000-gallon oil spill on the Santa Barbara County coast, local hotels say they haven’t seen any effect yet on reservations ahead of the busy Memorial Day weekend.

Several hotels in Santa Barbara, one of Southern California’s top tourism destinations, said they fielded some calls from concerned guests, but have not had any cancellations because of the oil spill.

Some employees said that could be linked to their distance from the spill -- about 23 miles.


The story was similar in Goleta, about 15 miles south of Refugio State Beach, which has been closed due to the spill.

“Our beach is open,” said Anne Elcon, director of marketing and communications for Bacara Resort and Spa, referring to nearby Haskell’s Beach. “We’re in constant contact with local, state and federal updates.”

Jan Freitag, senior vice president with STR, a hotel market data firm, said it’s too early to tell whether the incident will hurt area tourism. He said travelers should check with their hotels and beach authorities to stay updated.

“Communication in this situation is key,” he said.

Closer to the spill location, employees at two inland campgrounds said they’ve gotten a handful of calls, but no cancellations. Both El Capitan Campground and Ocean Mesa Campground are about three miles away from Refugio State Beach, and less than a mile from the now-closed El Capitan State Beach.

At Refugio State Beach, a handful of campers were replaced overnight with cleanup crews, officials and dozens of media vans. Just one lone camper remained.

“It’s questionable whether this park will be open and available for the public to enjoy come Memorial Day weekend,” said Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who was assessing the damage at Refugio State Beach. “I think people may not come and enjoy this beautiful area as they have done in the past. So that’s obviously of great concern, the impact on the economy.”

“The impact to the economy is important, but the impact to the environment is equally or more important,” he said.

The oil spill was reported around noon Tuesday by a woman at Refugio State Beach who smelled the fumes, and U.S. Coast Guard crews stopped the leak by 3 p.m.

The cause of the break in the pipeline has not yet been determined, officials said. California State Parks District Superintendent Richard Rozzelle said helicopters are in the air to assess the oil’s spread.

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