Back to normal tourism? San Diego now has more money – $38 million – to attract more visitors


Travel is rebounding, as are the millions of dollars local tourism officials plan to spend this year attracting visitors to San Diego to rival vacation spots across the United States.

Thanks to a rebound in leisure travel that now exceeds pre-pandemic levels, San Diego will have $38 million to spend exclusively on promoting tourism – from TV and online advertising to fundraising for popular events. like the Thunder Boat Races and the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival that attract foreigners. This represents an increase of approximately $10 million over the previous year, although still below the $48 million allocated in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The main beneficiary of this year’s money, which comes from a 2% surcharge on hotel room stays in San Diego, is the San Diego Tourism Authority. Of the nearly $35 million it receives for the current fiscal year, more than half – $19.5 million – will be spent on promotional ads, both in cities in the West and in two new markets, Denver and Dallas.

Although this year’s media budget has not returned to the pre-pandemic peak of $28 million, it is considerably more than the $14 million the office had to spend just two years ago, said COO Kerri Kapich.

“Everything is going in the right direction, and now we will have more money to invest so that we can continue to rebuild the recovery,” she said. “A big part of the reason we’ve been so successful in recreation is that we’ve been able to market San Diego during the pandemic and now the endemic phase.”

San Diego is poised to enjoy one of its biggest tourist months of the year with the return this month of two of its biggest conventions – the ESRI World Mapping Conference, from Monday, followed by Comic-Con, starting July 20. This month is also San Diego LGBTQ Pride, which also tends to attract out-of-town visitors.

Now, with the extra money it has for promotion, San Diego will be able to ramp up its marketing for the rest of the year, reaching out to its closest neighbors like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas, as well than to more distant countries. places like Dallas and Denver that are more populated and also a relatively short plane ride away, Kapich said.

With people now back on the road and airports packed as they break free from their COVID-19 bubbles, she pointed out that the competition for tourist dollars is fiercer than ever. San Diego still has big appeal, and its outdoor spaces make it a natural place for those tired of congregating indoors, but the reality is other destinations still pull, Kapich said.

“Hawaii, Europe, they’ve reopened,” she added. “People might say we’ve been to San Diego three times in the last two and a half years so let’s see a national park that’s why we need to go beyond California and Arizona to get this message across.”

Overseeing the distribution of marketing money is the hotelier-run Tourism Marketing District, established in 2008 to ensure that a steady stream of revenue would be available to promote San Diego as a tourist destination. Since then, similar destination marketing districts have been created in cities across the United States.

The fundraising vehicle became especially crucial during the pandemic when it remained important to keep San Diego on people’s radar as a getaway destination, said TMD executive director Colleen Anderson, because revenue from the 2% marketing surcharge continue to grow, TMD this year was able to provide 19 small organizations with total funding of $2.7 million to help support events designed to attract overnight visitors to San Diego. A number of these are newer events that hope to gain a foothold in San Diego for years to come.

New recipients include:

– The Old Town Lucha Libre Festival, sponsored by the Old Town Chamber of Commerce, which will feature semi-professional Luchador wrestling.

– The Zero Emissions Alliance, which plans to hold a summit and expo after Labor Day weekend that is expected to attract officials from government agencies, municipalities, utilities and energy-focused startups clean and transport.

– Legit Rare’s All-American Championship and Showcase, a high school football event featuring the nation’s top 100 players. Following the annual Holiday Bowl in December, it will include exhibition games while providing college coaches with recruiting opportunities.

— Sports San Diego, which is trying to bring new sporting events to San Diego, has secured financial assistance for the upcoming Donate Life Transplant Games of America, which honors organ donors and raises awareness about organ donation. It is expected to attract 37 teams from across the country, plus three international teams.

While San Diego is expected to see continued growth in leisure travel, business and meeting-related travel isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, forecasters say.

Because the demand for leisure is high, this helps to compensate for the delay in business travel. Between January and May this year, the number of hotel rooms was 38% higher than the same period last year, said Nathan Kelley, director of research for the Tourism Authority. But compared to the same period in 2019, the level of bookings is 5% lower.

And a looming recession remains a wild card, Kelley acknowledges.

“On the one hand, high vaccination rates and tighter safety protocols could incentivize more risk-averse companies to hold meetings and events in San Diego,” Kelley wrote in a report produced by TMD. “On the other hand, the risk of the US sliding into recession (is) slightly higher as the Federal Reserve moves to normalize monetary policy this year and next.”


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