You might see them at the opera, at your local art gallery, at a Broadway musical or in the streets of Old Town. They might be strolling through Little Italy, visiting a museum or attending a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatres. They are San Diego's cultural tourists -- visitors who come to our region specifically to enjoy our arts and cultural scene, including those who may already be here on business or pleasure and opt to add a day or two to their stay to enjoy our diverse cultural offerings.
Just who is San Diego's average cultural tourist? The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau wanted an in-depth answer to that question, so we recently commissioned CIC Research to conduct an online survey of cultural travelers.
We e-mailed a questionnaire to those individuals who recently requested a copy of San Diego Art + Sol Magazine over our Web site at www.sandiego.org. This attractive magazine, a popular resource guide for potential visitors interested in adding arts and culture to their vacation experience, contains detailed information on every aspect of our region's arts and culture programs and activities.
The survey helped us paint a detailed portrait of the average cultural tourist. First and foremost, we learned that cultural tourists are more affluent than the average visitor to San Diego. Cultural tourists boast an average household income of $82,500, which is $14,000 more than San Diego's average overnight leisure visitor.
It also stands to reason that if they earn more, cultural tourists have more to spend while on vacation. Indeed, the survey showed that while the average overnight visitor spends between $69-116 per day, cultural tourists spend more than double that amount -- $246 daily!
Our study also shows that a whopping 81 percent of all cultural tourists surveyed stay in paid accommodations, versus 53 percent for the average visitor. They also stay longer, 5.5 nights vs. the 4.1-night visitor average -- thereby contributing even more in transient occupancy tax and sales taxes to our local coffers than our average tourist.
The study revealed other interesting facts about the cultural tourist. Not surprisingly, some 73 percent of these tourists travel without children and for the most part, they travel either solo or with another person. Almost three times the number of cultural tourists than average tourists make the journey from the Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States to San Diego for a vacation. And over half of San Diego's cultural tourists hail from the Western states, with 20 percent from California alone. Demographically, the majority of the travelers are female (59 percent) between the ages of 35-54.
As you would expect, visits to historical monuments and museums (70 percent) are at the top of the activities list for cultural travelers, but the all-time favorite visitor activity - shopping -- still came up at the top of their activities list, too! So whether they are buying souvenirs or classical CDs, these cultural tourists are definitely dipping into their wallets as they shop at our local retail stores during their visit here.
Other favorite activities of this group of travelers include visits to parks and gardens, attending a festival or special event, visits to the beach and theme/amusement parks, exploring art galleries, and attending performing arts events.
Our survey not only gave us insight into the behavior of the cultural tourist, but also polled these tourists' attitudes and perception of San Diego. The overwhelming majority of cultural tourists who visited San Diego recently were very satisfied with their trip and would recommend San Diego to others for its arts, culture and historic activities.
Those surveyed said they regularly participate in arts and cultural activities at home and also seek out the best restaurants when traveling. More than half of the respondents indicate they would come to San Diego or other destinations specifically to attend an arts event or festival. We also learned that these visitors read and used the San Diego Art + Sol Magazine to learn about San Diego's cultural offerings and design their own vacation itineraries around them.
The value of cultural tourism is nothing new to us. In fact, several years ago we recognized the emergence of cultural tourism as one of the hottest niche markets in tourism and designed an entire marketing program to reach out to these affluent travelers.
That was when our San Diego Art + Sol program was born. Its strength lies in the fact that it is a cooperative partnership that includes 11 of San Diego's leading arts and culture organizations: Broadway/San Diego, The Globe Theatres, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, La Jolla Playhouse, Lamb's Players Theatre, Mingei International Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Opera and the Timken Museum of Art, the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, San Diego Magazine, NBC 7/39 and American Express. Together we are able to combine our advertising dollars to reach out to the affluent cultural tourist market across the country, inviting them to vacation in San Diego to enjoy all of our region's outstanding cultural activities.
San Diego Art + Sol Magazine is the cornerstone of the advertising program. It features a page highlighting each partner along with a six-month calendar of events, American Express card member values and various cultural itineraries. It is produced biannually and distributed by San Diego Magazine to local subscribers. In addition, the magazine is mailed to American Express card members, consumers by request, meeting/convention delegates, hotels, concierge desks, relocation companies and visitor centers throughout the region.
San Diego Art + Sol ads reach the eyes of potential travelers in publications such as the national editions of Smithsonian and Sunset magazines and in regional publications such as Sacramento Magazine and Palm Springs Life. We also pitch San Diego to potential cultural travelers while they are at the theater, placing eye-catching ads in the California and Arizona editions of Performing Arts magazine and the California edition of Playbill.
Thanks to a co-op venture with American Express, diners in San Diego area restaurants are also reminded of our region's cultural community whenever they get their check. Inside a check presenter cover bearing the San Diego Art + Sol logo, diners receive a major events list to help them keep up to date on all the cultural happenings in the region.
It's no secret that the current problems plaguing the travel industry across the nation -- threat of war, weakening economy, decrease in corporate spending -- will continue to adversely affect tourism over the next months. However, because San Diego has so many different experiences to offer visitors, our region continues to fare better than many visitor destinations across the nation.
The key is targeting various niche travel markets -- cultural tourism among them -- to keep potential visitors interested and excited about visiting San Diego, whether they are looking for sun and surf, family fun, rest and relaxation, golf and sports, or a unique cultural experience filled with the right mix of history and arts that is uniquely San Diego's.
Reinders is president & CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at email@example.com.