Santa Barbara tourism industry fends off oil spill concerns

Santa Barbara tourism industry fends off oil spill concerns
Area hotels and tourism groups are battling perceptions that the Refugio State Beach oil spill directly affects the city of Santa Barbara. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Is Santa Barbara covered in oil? Should I cancel my kayaking trip to Channel Islands National Park?

Those are the kinds of questions Michael Cohen and his staff at Santa Barbara Adventure Co. have been fielding since Tuesday's oil spill at Refugio State Beach, 23 miles up the coast.


The kayaking company and local hotels have been waging a public relations campaign this week to reassure visitors that the oil spill is no reason to cancel reservations.

"We're all working to educate people ... that Santa Barbara is still open and that it's an isolated incident up north out of town," Cohen said.

Hotels in Goleta, 15 miles from the 21,000-gallon spill at Refugio State Beach, have also been answering calls from concerned visitors.

"We are trying to communicate to guests that our beaches are not covered in oil," said Anne Elcon, director of marketing for Bacara Resort and Spa in Goleta. "There's no smell. This would not impact their stay."

Elcon said the beach near the hotel, Haskell's Beach, was open. Bacara has had some cancellations, but no more than normal, she said. The hotel has sent food to crews cleaning up on the coast.

The Four Seasons Resort Biltmore Santa Barbara has turned to social media to allay fears of crude-covered beaches.

"Instead of talking about room service and the latest cocktail ... we are communicating very heavily that Butterfly Beach and the Biltmore and Santa Barbara are beautiful and have not been affected," said Holger Frehde, director of marketing.

He said the hotel has had little fallout from the spill -- just a handful of customer calls and one or two rescheduled reservations.

Cohen's outdoor adventure company, which leads trips to Refugio State Beach, had 25 cancellations for Memorial Day weekend.

"We're open for business," he said. "We still have a lot of beautiful beaches that are open and ready for people to enjoy."

That includes trips to the Channel Islands -- the national park is about 50 miles away from Refugio.

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