Marketing San Diego today

Arguably, San Diego is the best tourist and meeting destination in the world. We refer to the lifestyle we have here as "active relaxation." Coined by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau with assistance from agency NYCA, this describes what visitors experience here. There simply is no better way to explain our lifestyle in San Diego.

From the arts community with our world-class symphony, great theater, comedy acts, concerts, dance troupes, museums and Balboa Park, we have lots of culture. Our great climate is rated first in North America by yours truly, having traveled throughout Canada and Mexico and beyond to find the perfect place. Three hundred-plus days of sunshine in a beautifully temperate climate makes us No. 1.

Because we are able to participate in sports like surfing, swimming, biking and running year round, we are the envy of most other destinations.

Spa resorts include Cal-A-Vie, the Golden Door, La Costa and more. Those of us not fortunate enough to have visited these destination spa resorts are missing a truly remarkable experience.

We have gaming at Harrahs, Barona, Sycuan, Viejas, Pala and more, and these make one of the most significant concentrations of gaming resorts outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. We also have the Del Mar Racetrack and just south of the border we have the Jai Alai Palace, as well as other gaming venues.

Speaking of Mexico, we are one of the few U.S. cities that can boast a sister city across the border. Tijuana offers visitors a quick glimpse of another culture with great dining, dancing and nightclubs.

Just a few minutes away we are blessed with some fine wineries offering tastes of wine and an education in viniculture. Our beaches in Coronado, Del Mar and La Jolla are highly rated. San Diego attractions include Legoland, SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park and numerous more.

The award-winning convention center is one of the top centers in the nation. The exciting Gaslamp Quarter, with top nightclubs ranging from 4th and B to the new spots along 5th Avenue, offers a very "cool" 24/7 urban environment. The cuisine now offered in the Gaslamp rivals that of most major cities in the world.

East Village sports the beautiful new Petco Park and has seen a massive reformation from old warehouses to new and exciting businesses. Old Town, Seaport Village and the waterfront offer attractions close to the major hotels downtown. The Old Town trolley provides a way to see some of our history while visiting area tourist attractions.

Golf courses such as AvĂ­ara, the Bridges, Torrey Pines and the Del Mar Grand National are challenging and rate among the top in the country. We have nearly 100 golf courses in the county.

Restaurants with Georges, Mr. A's, great steakhouses, homegrown chains such as Sammys and Cohn Restaurant Group and thousands of others offer every possible cuisine.

Resorts with Four Seasons Aviara and the Lodge at Torrey Pines leading the way have made for "super luxury" in our market. The Grand Del Mar will add to that in 2007 and boutique hotels like the W, Hotel Solamar and now the Ivy Hotel and more have added to that "boutique" mix.

Retail with outlet shops to the high end shops in Del Mar offer visitors a wide variety of shopping choices. Today, we even have some mass transit such as the San Diego Trolley, Coaster and Amtrak.

The benefits of tourism to residents are enormous. Tourists drop their dollars and leave, seldom using our emergency services and typically not driving on our roads during rush hour. Given the new hotel supply coming on line in 2007 and 2008, it is paramount that we prime the tourism marketing pump. If we do it properly with a TID, tourists will pay a 12.5 percent surcharge above their base hotel bill. They currently pay 10.5 percent.

We should be performing at 80 percent occupancy like New York and Oahu; however, we do not fill our hotel rooms except in July and August. We should have several hundred thousand more convention delegates given our facilities and several hundred thousand more tourists given our world-class environment.

Currently there are over 20 million room nights available each year in San Diego County, and of those, nearly 15 million are occupied. With the addition of 6,000 new rooms (or more than 2 million new room nights available) we will need to fill 1.5 million new room nights per year to stay even, and more than 2.5 million to approach the 80 percent occupancy rate that we should achieve.

The city of San Diego is in dire straits financially. We as a tourism community must pull together and form a tourism improvement district (TID) that will be approved by the city attorney, city council and hotel community. It can be accomplished by July 2007, in time for the next budget cycle.

Given the budget our competitors have, it is even more critical that we invest in the tourism industry. The city of San Diego is unable to feed the marketing needs of the organizations that market this great destination. If we sit on our hands, when the economy hits a bump we will all be in for a cruel awakening. We are losing market share to Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, New Orleans, Orlando and San Antonio. Now is the time to ramp up our marketing!

Rauch is general partner of Homewood Suites by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn San Diego/Del Mar, and serves as chairman of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association and vice chairman of the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau. He can be reached at Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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