COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | ROBERT RAUCH

San Diego hospitality industry made of leaders

San Diego's hotel industry includes the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association and the San Diego Lodging Industry Association. These two organizations seek to develop a Tourism Improvement District, in which visitors would pay an assessment of 2 percent on top of the 10.5 percent Transient Occupancy Tax. The assessment would provide a dedicated, stable source of funding for tourism promotion so that San Diego can compete with other destinations.

Currently, the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis) and the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau (SD North) face constant pressure to do more with less as the city of San Diego and other funding sources are stretched. It has become very difficult to identify funds available to promote this great destination, which provides more than 100,000 jobs for the hospitality sector as well as an abundance of tax revenues for use by our citizens.

These marketing organizations are led by rock-solid leaders. ConVis has had Reint Reinders at the helm for 15 years. Reinders, from Holland, was a top hotelier with Marriott and has done a superb job of promoting San Diego. He retires this coming June and will leave some large shoes to fill.

Cami Mattson has run SD North for 20 years and grew it from a small office in Escondido to a top-notch regional organization today. She is well respected and has the organization performing at a high level.

In addition to these key marketing organizations is the SDCCC, run by Carol Wallace for 15 years. Wallace is also highly regarded as a leader who has brought awards and recognition to our outstanding convention center. Other organizations include the Carlsbad Convention & Visitors Bureau, capably led by Kurt Burkhart and the San Diego East Visitors Bureau, also capably led by Eric Lund.

These marketing organizations must compete with destinations every day, just as most of us must compete in our own competitive markets. The problem is the dearth of funds available to promote San Diego effectively. The hoteliers in San Diego will require help to facilitate the development of the Tourism Improvement District (TID). It will require a vote by the City Council, a review by the city attorney and a vote by all of the hotel owners in the city of San Diego. Eventually, other cities may follow suit. Carlsbad just passed a TID in late 2005. That city clearly sees the advantage of promoting the destination. Perhaps Solana Beach, considering a transient occupancy tax increase, will see the light and pass a TID instead -- that way, the money will be reinvested in tourism.

San Diego's hospitality industry does not end here. At San Diego State University, 425 students are vying for a future in the industry in the Hospitality and Tourism Management program. As one of several industry lecturers at this fine program, I can truthfully say that the students who attend and ultimately complete the program have received rave reviews from businesses throughout the United States. These students are our future tourism industry leaders.

As we remember how wonderful our amenity package is here in San Diego, let's also remember why we have this great package. SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, Legoland and the other great attractions here would not exist were it not for visitors. Many of our arts, culture, restaurants, golf courses, retail stores, spas and wineries would not have been built without demand from visitors.

The first quarter was a good one for San Diego's hospitality industry. That pattern is likely to continue for a while, since the economy is still humming along and there is virtually no new supply of hotel rooms. Soon, those dynamics will change. At that time, it will be paramount for us to be aggressively pursuing meetings business and leisure travel.

The TID planned for this next year is required to keep the hospitality industry here healthy and vibrant. It will require support and, at the end of the day, it will benefit the city of San Diego, hotels, restaurants, attractions, the arts community and all who benefit from the tourism industry, a large amenity for the residents of San Diego.

Lastly, as president of the Hotel-Motel Association, I must thank Rose Marie Starns for her 20-plus years of leadership as executive director of the association. While she has turned over the day-to-day management of this great organization to Namara Mercer, her daughter and right hand for years, she is one of the savviest behind-the-scenes advisers this industry has ever had. If I have one call to make to an industry insider, the call goes to Starns. She will help the Hotel-Motel Association and the San Diego Lodging Industry Association work as a team to get the TID passed despite obstacles that undoubtedly will come up.


Rauch serves as president of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association and serves on the board of directors of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Lodging Industry Association. He is general manager/partner of the Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego/Del Mar. He can be reached at robert.rauch@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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