The Impact of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara

Tourism and Hospitality Experience Large Declines in Foot Traffic

As a result of COVID-19, the daily activities of people across the United States have been fundamentally changed. Using anonymized location data from SafeGraph, I am able to visualize the trends in the places that people are visiting in the city of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is known for being a year round tourist destination and has many hotels, motels (including the original Motel 6), museums, parks, and other tourist destinations.

Looking at the following figure, we can see that beginning in March 2020 the number of visits per week in three categories measuring Tourism, Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation saw large declines. The Nature Parks and Other Similar Institutions category includes many local parks and beaches as well as the Santa Barbara Zoo and MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation.

Interestingly, nature parks saw a small spike in the week following the statewide shelter-in-place order on March 19th as many people wished to return outdoors after a week inside. In fact, Elings Park and Shoreline Park two of the most popular parks in Santa Barbara both saw spikes in foot traffic the week of March 30th while the Zoo and Museums remained closed.

In addition to visiting the beaches and parks in Santa Barbara, many people come to Santa Barbara to visit the many wine tasting rooms and microbreweries. Breweries, wineries, and beer, wine, and liquor stores have all seen large declines in foot traffic. However, this impacts the county of Santa Barbara much more than the city of Santa Barbara. Comparing the following two graphs, the large decline in visits to wineries is much more apparent in the graph on the right that shows trends for all of Santa Barbara county.

Geography of Change

The changes in locations that people are visiting can be visualized by matching the data from SafeGraph to census blocks. Map areas without shading are census blocks with no registered points of interest or with zero visitors in either the month of February or March. Some outdoor areas actually experienced increases in the number of visitors in March. Some of the areas that saw the largest increase in visitors in March were areas around More Mesa, San Miguel Open Space, and residential areas on The Mesa. Large areas also saw decreases including Isla Vista, State Street, University of California Santa, Santa Barbara City College, and the Funk Zone.

Retail, Groceries, and Restaurants

Food and Health Supplement stores saw an increase in foot traffic in early March, with GNC being a large proportion of that increase, before seeing a decline in late March. Movie theaters began experiencing a decline even before closures due to the shelter-in-place, with decreased foot traffic beginning in early March. Looking to some of the brands in Santa Barbara with the most foot traffic, Costco had a spike in March just previous to the shelter-in-place order as people began to stock up on essentials, while The Home Depot saw a spike in the two weeks following the shelter-in-place order.

Looking further into the Supermarkets and Other Grocery Store foot traffic, an interesting feature emerges. Whole Food's saw a very large spike in foot traffic in February before a sharp decline in early March, while all other grocery stores saw modest spikes in early March before experiencing declines in late March and early April.

Restaurants across all types of service and food types saw a large decline in foot traffic in March and April. It appears that Mexican Food and Coffee Shops saw less decline compared to Chinese Food, Pizza, and Sandwiches but all restaurants face large declines.