By Carlos Rico
If you find yourself walking around the San Diego Embarcadero on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon around 1:05 p.m. you might notice a large aircraft flying into the San Diego International Airport. A few years ago, the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA) collaborated with the San Diego Regional Airport Authority to negotiate a nonstop flight from Frankfurt, Germany via Lufthansa. Now an Airbus A340 flies from San Diego to Deutschland and back, five days a week.
Or if you enjoy walking around the Gaslamp Quarter during Comic-Con you probably have noticed the spill-over outside of the San Diego Convention Center to various hotels, restaurants and Petco Park. The SDTA works with Comic-Con and other conventions to bring exciting and informative conferences that generate revenue for the local economy.
These are just a couple of examples on how the SDTA, and its approximately 90 employees, attract people San Diego as a destination for leisure and business travel.
The SDTA is a nonprofit that handles the sales and marketing to drive visitors to the San Diego region and creates economic benefit. The nonprofit is comprised of approximately 1,000-member organizations, businesses, local governments, and individuals seeking a better community through the tourism industry. The SDTA also works with marketing entities in eight countries outside of the United States, including parts of Asia, Europe and North America.
“We want to elevate how San Diego is seen not only in the U.S., but around the world,” says Kerri Kapich, SDTA Chief Operating Officer.
But why does tourism matter in San Diego?
According to the Employment Development Department, one-in-eight San Diegans works in the tourism industry, including lodging, food service, attractions and transportation. That’s roughly 194,000 people.
In 2017, there were 35.8 million visitors to San Diego; almost 18 million were overnight and over 17.7 million were day visitors, according to the SDTA. They spent $11.5 billion at thousands of local businesses during their stay. Seventy percent of those dollars were spent at businesses other than lodging.
“Tourism matters because it’s the second largest economic driver in San Diego,” says Kapich. “Visitors bring in $19 billion in economic impact to the region.”
Visitor dollars also help support public safety services via the Transient Occupancy Tax. In fiscal year 2018, $306 million was collected in TOT, which comes from guests who stay in hotels and other short-term rentals.
Additional sales and property taxes from visitor industry businesses grow the total tax revenues generated by visitors to an estimated $940 million annually, according to the SDTA. This revenue supports local and state governments ability to pay for road improvement, police, fire safety, lifeguards, parks, and other essential services.
“Tourism drives the local economy and supports the community’s way of life and makes San Diego a better place to live, work and play,” says Kapich.
To continue to advocate for San Diego tourism and attract people to local communities, the SDTA is investing $19 million in the first half of 2019. It started with a new campaign, “Something to Smile About,” which includes broadcast, digital and out-of-home advertising across four countries, including ads in Mexico inviting potential visitors to “Encuentra Tu Sonrisa en San Diego” (Find Your Smile in San Diego). TV ads promoting San Diego also ran during commercial breaks of the NCAA College Basketball Tournaments in March and on primetime network television in February.
Kapich says there are many milestones to celebrate in San Diego in 2019. This year marks the 250th anniversary of San Diego being founded as a city and the 65th anniversary of the SDTA.
In addition, SeaWorld San Diego is celebrating its 55th birthday; the Padres and turn 50; Comic-Con celebrates its 50th show; it’s the 30th anniversary of the San Diego Convention Center; Legoland opened its doors 20 years ago; and it’s the 15th anniversary of the USS Midway Museum.
A more delicious feature coming this year will be a new restaurant by American celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Mina and bestselling cookbook author Ayesha Curry. They will be opening their International Smoke eatery in Carmel Valley this summer, says Kapich.
This new destination aligns with SDTA goals to continue promote local communities and neighborhoods in San Diego, and not just the main tourism stops such as SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo.
The SDTA has produced videos showcasing the delicious desserts in the Convoy District, the tasty beers at San Diego’s first Latinx-owned brewery Border X in Barrio Logan, and hiking options at Mt. Woodson.
“San Diego has such exciting, diverse and sophisticated options to visit,” says Kapich. “We are trying to expand on how San Diego is seen.”
[box title=””]SDTA also uses social media to market and engage people about San Diego. The nonprofit invites locals and visitors to share their San Diego experiences by tagging them on their Instagram page using the hashtag #VisitSD, and the SDTA also welcomes questions about planning your to San Diego via their Twitter page. You can also stay in the know by liking their Facebook page and visiting SanDiego.org.[/box]