After more than a decade of negotiations with the U.S. Navy and local agencies, our vision of seeing the USS Midway, future home to the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, berthed in our Big Bay is now closer than ever to being realized.
Just a few weeks ago, Acting Secretary of the Navy Hansford T. Johnson announced that the Midway has been officially donated to the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum. If all goes as planned, we are optimistic that the Midway will arrive in San Diego during our Fleet Week activities in October!
When the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum opens its doors in the spring of 2004, it will give San Diego an unprecedented opportunity to attract thousands of visitors to the area to experience a part of our region's unique military history. It will also allow us to pay tribute to the role of the armed services in San Diego as well as honor the more than 200,000 Americans who served aboard the USS Midway over the past 50 years.
Its opening will come none too soon for San Diego's visitor industry. Today's savvy traveler is looking for a destination that offers a diverse palette of new activities and experiences. Meeting planners and vacation travelers are constantly asking us, "What's new in San Diego?" and more and more exciting, state-of-the-art attractions are popping up across the country, luring travelers looking for the newest and latest in vacation diversions.
The Midway museum will give us the answer to "What's new," and immediately spread its magic as it attracts residents and visitors alike, infusing our local economy with significant tourism revenues. It will also become an exciting new option to present to national meeting planners, as well as local festivity planners, looking for a unique site in which to hold their special events.
One of the most oft-repeated requests by meeting planners is whether an off-site event for delegates could be held on an aircraft carrier. The Midway, berthed less than a mile from our Convention Center, will enable us to offer these planners a venue unlike any other, helping to seal the deal and keep lucrative convention and meetings business in San Diego.
The Midway museum also promises to become an anchor for the emerging revitalization of the North Embarcadero. Visitors will flock to the Embarcadero not only to tour the museum, but also to participate in a wide range of experiences -- from a visit to the San Diego Maritime Museum's majestic Star of India, to a stroll through Seaport Village, to dinner at one of our many fine waterfront restaurants. With the Midway in its midst, the North Embarcadero -- with all its varied components -- will become an even more popular visitor destination in itself.
While San Diego's visitor industry certainly owes its thanks to the military for making this newest visitor attraction possible, we cannot ignore the fact that the military and defense sector is San Diego's second largest industry, pouring $17.3 billion dollars annually into our local economy. San Diego is home to more than one-third of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and almost one-sixth of the entire U.S. Naval Fleet, making it the largest military complex in the nation.
Definitely not to be ignored is the military's impact on San Diego's local tourism industry, which amounts to more than $750 million annually in expenditures by military personnel and dependents who come to San Diego specifically to attend a meeting, convention, military reunion or graduation, enjoy a vacation or conduct official government business. This impact includes not only their hotel room expenditures, but the money they spend in area restaurants, attractions, entertainment venues and retail shops, as well as for airlines and local transportation.
A decade ago, the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis) recognized the significant impact of military meetings on the hospitality industry and officially launched the Military and Defense Affairs Worldwide department.
In its first year of operation, the department, dedicated solely to the solicitation and servicing of military convention and meetings business, booked 5,700 room nights to military personnel. By fiscal year 2002, that number soared to 95,000+ room nights. San Diego is now the second biggest generator of federal government room nights in the nation, behind Washington, D.C.
Close to 80 percent of all rooms booked by the military are used by U.S. Department of Defense representatives participating in government business, meetings and conferences. The remaining 20 percent come to San Diego on international military business (including NATO), to attend a veterans' association meeting or to celebrate a military reunion.
In fact, San Diego has the impressive distinction of hosting more military reunions than any other city in the United States. Reunion groups are attracted to the region because of its close association with the military community, as well as the availability of hotel meeting facilities that specialize in the reunion market.
For example, many of the military who served in World War II and come to San Diego to take part in reunions may not have been on a military base since their discharge 50 years ago. Here, they can delight in the opportunity to take a Navy ship tour, attend graduation ceremonies at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, board an aircraft carrier or view a flight line at MCAS Miramar.
They also bring with them an incredible and fascinating history. San Diego has played host to reunion groups such as the 42nd Rainbow Division, the American soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in April, 1945, and the crew of the USS San Diego, the first ship to enter Tokyo Bay along with the famous USS Missouri on which Japan surrendered to the United States in August, 1945.
So the next time you see a group of veterans with a ship's name emblazoned on their caps strolling along the Embarcadero, or see a proud family touring San Diego with their son or daughter in uniform, you'll know that they are not only protecting our country but also supporting our local economy. San Diego's visitor industry owes much of its health to our military community and we raise our hand in salute to the armed forces and their substantial impact on our local tourism industry.