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San Diego Tourism Authority targets international travelers

San Diego is an amazing place with a tremendous amount to offer -- why does it need to market itself?

David Mering of MeringCarson addressed that question at the San Diego Tourism Authority’s annual meeting Thursday at the Hilton Bayfront San Diego.

The San Diego Tourism Authority is a private, nonprofit, mutual benefit corporation composed of approximately 1,100 member organizations, businesses, local governments and individuals seeking a better community through the visitor industry.

MeringCarson helped develop the corporation’s “Guides to the Good Stuff,” which features interviews with notable San Diegans in a digital ad campaign.

While San Diego does have a lot to offer, it’s also true that competition has never been greater, Mering said.

Tourism marketing districts are forming in all areas and “spending money like never before,” he added.

Many of the speakers at the meeting, including Mering and City Council President Todd Gloria, alluded to how San Diego is "back in the game.”

“It’s not just about being in the game for us -- it’s about winning the game,” Mering said.

The Hotel Del Coronado is an example of an iconic San Diego image that tourists want to visit and photograph. Photo courtesy Hotel Del Coronado

Gloria said San Diego has proven that when it competes, it can win. He referenced the recent success of getting the U.S. Open to come to Torrey Pines in 2021.

The total economic effect of the tourism industry was $18.7 billion from July 2012 to June 2013, with $8.4 billion in direct economic impact and $410 million in total tax revenue.

San Diego will see exposure like never before in 2015 when National Geographic airs its “Smart World Cities” documentary to more than 140 million viewers across 23 countries, said Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the Tourism Authority.

San Diego is one of 18 cities worldwide to be featured in the documentary, which focuses on cities that are smart and competitive in the 21st century.

The documentary is one of the Tourism Authority’s key initiatives going forward.

It’s directing its efforts toward reaching a global audience through global brand research and adding China to its international marketing. San Diego has international marketing in Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and South Korea.

San Diego is one of the top five destinations for domestic travel, and is the 11th most-visited city for international travelers, Gloria said.

About 9 percent of San Diego’s visitors are from outside the United States, according to Kerri Verbeke Kapich, the Tourism Authority’s senior vice president of marketing and strategic relationships. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, that figure is about 20 to 30 percent.

The global research project will provide strategic insights, differentiators between San Diego’s products and other destinations, travel barriers, product offerings and messaging, Mering said.

Keynote speaker Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said the Chinese want what California produces.

International travelers tend to spend more time visiting and spend more money than domestic travelers; they’re more likely to stay in hotels versus private homes and visit more attractions, Kapich said.

The Tourism Authority’s efforts are mostly outwardly focused, but Terzi said it’s also important to connect locally. The group’s San Diego Ambassadors Program, another key initiative, gives visitors an inside view of San Diego while also giving San Diegans a chance to be more engaged in touting their home.

Through research, Mering has found that San Diego has a sunny outlook -- a physical and emotional benefit to the consumer, which is the current brand platform and the foundation on which all work has been based, he said.

The “Guides to the Good Stuff” tells the story of San Diego and what makes it such an amazing place, Mering said.

Rob Machado, professional surfer and founder of the Rob Machado Foundation, is quoted in one of the videos saying, “San Diego is happy and happiness is contagious.”

The videos go beyond the 30-second commercial and consumers learn what it’s like not just to be in San Diego, but to be a San Diegan, Mering said.

This spring, the Tourism Authority will also launch a San Diego Marketing Certified program, in which convention and conference hotel sales and general managers will be certified on how to set the San Diego experience apart from other destinations.

The program is endorsed by San Diego State University’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, the San Diego chapter of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International and the San Diego chapter of Meeting Professionals International.

The San Diego Tourism Authority celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Since 1954, the number of visitors in San Diego has increased from 7.1 million to 33 million in 2013; the number of hotel rooms has increased from 8,200 to 58,000 and visitor spending has risen from $200 million to $8.8 billion, Gloria said.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the transient occupancy tax is the third-largest revenue to the city.

The millions of dollars in taxes from tourists can be used to fill “a whole lot of potholes,” hire police officers and extend library hours, Gloria said.

The tourism industry employs about 165,000 people in San Diego.

From July 2012 through June 2013, there were 32.8 million total visitors in San Diego, an increase of 3.7 percent year over year.

Total visitor spending in that time period was $8.2 billion, up 5.9 percent from the previous year, and the total economic impact was $18.2 billion, also up 5.9 percent from the previous year.

Most numbers were up from the previous year, with the exception of arts/museum attendance, which was 2 million – a decrease of 2.6 percent.

The number of hotel room nights sold in the county was about 15.04 million, an increase of 1.4 percent year over year. The county’s average occupancy was 70.7 percent -- up 0.8 percent from last year -- with an average daily rate of $131.70 -- an increase of 3.1 percent year over year.

The city’s average hotel occupancy was 73 percent from July 2012 through June 2013, an increase of 0.9 percent, and the average daily rate was $137.54, an increase of 3 percent from the previous year.

Rajan showed a video focusing on California, which has inspired dreamers and been a magnet for people with big ideas. It also discussed maintaining the dream while facing economic challenges.

Rajan spoke about how the state’s business climate relates to tourism.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been working to turn the state around from a having a budget deficit, 12 percent unemployment, flat trajectory in terms of gross domestic product and private sector job creation, which all combined to bring down the state’s confidence, brand and reputation, Rajan said.

Competitors exploited those conditions to draw people and businesses away from California and to their destinations. As the climate has changed from a budget deficit to a budget surplus, with GDP at 3.5 percent, and unemployment down to 8 percent -- Rajan said, the state has a better story to tell, but it still working to override the narrative that California is an inhospitable place to do business.

He said it’s important to commit at the state and local levels to not concede, but to improve the regulatory process to that it is more predictable, consistent and faster.

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San Diego Tourism Authority

Company Website

750 B St. Ste., 1500
San Diego, CA 92101

San Diego Tourism Authority Executive(s):

David Peckinpaugh

  • Chief Executive Officer, President

Joe Terzi

  • Chief Executive Officer, President

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