Next magical 21 months should bode well for San Diego

Why will the next two years be the most exciting in San Diego's tourism history? There are plenty of reasons. First, the economy continues to roll and, due to election year economics, this pattern should be with us for the next 21 months. Second, we are adding some very exciting hospitality product including convention hotels, boutique hotels, resorts, nightclubs, restaurants, exhibit and attraction improvements, and more.

In addition to all of the new products, we have a phenomenal base of tourism inventory. Our attractions are second only to Disney. Our art community is rock solid and growing, and while it does not compete with New York, our beaches and climate sure make up for that. As an example, we can listen to our San Diego Symphony Pops at an outdoor venue in near perfect weather all summer long or stroll through Balboa Park year around.

Our golf courses number 100, among the top in the United States. That is fantastic news that gets even greater as we approach the 2008 U.S. Open Golf, a tournament to be played June 9-15, 2008. This event will fill hotel rooms, restaurants and all related tourism spending. It will also be a phenomenal public relations opportunity as the golf world observes San Diego as host. Torrey Pines is arguably one of the best public golf courses in the nation. This is a huge event for San Diego.

I'll admit our restaurant package does not get much national attention; however, we boast virtually every type of cuisine, award-winning chefs, trendy eateries and great dining experiences overall, especially when outdoor dining is plausible. The Gaslamp Quarter is a super place to find a great dining experience, and our restaurants throughout the county are excellent. Beachfront dining, resort dining and every price range of food and beverage experiences are available.

No, our wineries do not rival Napa -- but they are approachable and affordable. With a short ride to a winery or tasting room, visitors and residents alike can taste great value red and white wines. The wine industry is booming and, unlike most of our competitor destinations, we already have some good wineries. Our retail product is beginning to look competitive as well. Guests desire our outlet shops as well as high-end boutiques in Coronado, La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe and Del Mar.

Our spas are leaders in the industry, and the climate makes them even more appealing. Most people are unaware the Golden Door and Cal-a-Vie spas in San Diego North are world-renowned and in our backyard. Other resorts and hotels have added spa products to their mix and offer a tremendous opportunity for business and leisure travelers alike. With baby boomers entering their 60s, this market will grow dramatically.

People might say, "You ain't Vegas, baby" and they would be right. We are a family destination that just happens to have the single largest concentration of high-quality Indian gaming in the states. The gaming resort product offers golf, spas, restaurants, entertainment and full-service gaming operations. We truly have it all.

Our meetings business is booming because planners have multiple choices. We have one of the finest convention centers in the world, great convention hotels and attractions that offer every choice a meeting planner might want. We have super luxury resorts, modestly priced resorts, urban hotels, suburban hotels, coastal properties and slightly warmer inland properties.

We also made a brilliant decision as a destination and city. The city of San Diego and hospitality industry leaders are putting forth a measure known as the Tourism Marketing District, which will increase our marketing resources from barely $10 million to more than $25 million, utilizing a 2 percent fee that our visitors pay. This will position us where we belong in the industry as opposed to the back of the pack when it comes to spending.

Why do we need to spend marketing dollars when we have such a great product? Every other destination knows the value of tourism and offers incentives to beat us or has a competitive advantage. These include, but are not limited to, convention-center rent reductions, lower air fares, more direct air service, lower hotel rates, transportation packages, amenity packages, incentives to meeting planners and more.

Finally, the magic No. "21" needs to be addressed. By January 2009, we will have a new U.S. president and thousands of new hotel rooms in San Diego. To fill those rooms, it is imperative the Tourism Marketing District has been approved and our tourism marketing arms are working on all cylinders. It is unlikely our economy will continue its current strength. We must prepare for the inevitable economic downturn at some point -- and that means work hard while things are good!

Rauch is chairman of the San Diego Hotel and Motel Association and vice chairman of San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau. He also serves on the board of directors for San Diego Convention Center Corp. and teaches entrepreneurship at San Diego State University. He can be reached at Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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