Destination San Diego

September 25, 2003

October 23, 2003

November 20, 2003

Cultural tourism big business in San Diego

On Oct. 12, my family and I stood in front of the incredible chalk paintings that lined the streets of Little Italy and looked out over the crowds attending the Little Italy Festa and Chalk La Strada. It is estimated that some 70,000 people attended the event, now in its ninth year.

I had a chance to speak with several people while I was enjoying the entertainment and fabulous Italian food specialties, and wasn't surprised to meet people who traveled specifically from Los Angeles, Riverside, Phoenix and Tucson to attend this event. While some of them stayed with family and friends, many indicated they booked rooms in local hotels.

In fact, the nearby Radisson Hotel Harbor View reported close to 100 percent occupancy on the Festa weekend -- as did the La Pensione hotel -- which they attribute exclusively to the out-of-town visitors to the festival who spent the weekend in San Diego. Also, some 40 chalk artists and their families traveled to San Diego from around the country, adding their economic impact to the monies spent by our visitors.

Actually, the festival was only one of several major events taking place that weekend in San Diego. While thousands were munching pizza in Little Italy, classic car aficionados were enjoying the Dodge Holiday Bowl Speed Festival in Coronado; Cajun music lovers were gathered on Harbor Island for the "Gator by the Bay" festival; beach lovers enjoyed sandcastles and volleyball at the 5th annual Pacific Beachfest; and Oktoberfest fans danced the polka in El Cajon.

For that matter, on any given weekend throughout the year, you can find a wide variety of special events in all parts of the county to satisfy any taste.

For most people, it is hard to imagine that the fun and excitement of attending festivals, concerts, sports competitions or themed parties can mean business, big business, for the host city.

But for the myriad companies and organizations that owe their livelihood to organizing and producing special events -- or in servicing the visitor who's in town to attend them -- it's not difficult to recognize the economic impact such events have on the local economy.

Visitor destinations across the nation have long sought to add various special events to their palette of vacation activities, realizing full well that the more activities a destination can offer its potential visitors, the greater the chance they will choose that destination for their next vacation experience.

The tendency to choose a community based on factors other than "rest and relaxation" is part of a current trend in the travel industry nationwide. Gone are the days when sun and surf alone automatically guaranteed the success and popularity of a vacation destination. Vacationers are now seeking ways to enrich their holiday experience in various ways, and the travel industry is responding to this need by developing a variety of niche markets. Eco-tourism, adventure travel, family travel to special attractions and cultural tourism have developed into "hot markets" in the travel sales industry.

High on the list among these niche travel markets is also one that carries a powerful economic punch for the visitor destination: special events. Both entertaining and educational, festivals and special events are becoming ever-popular tourist attractions -- in some cases, the largest visitor attraction in a state.

A recent study conducted by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau found that tourists with an interest in attending cultural/special events have a significantly higher median household income, boasting an average income of $82,000 -- some $14,000 more than San Diego's average overnight visitor. As a result, they spend more than double the amount of San Diego's average visitor --$246 daily! In addition, these focused travelers tend to take longer trips, include multiple destinations, participate in more activities and stay more often in higher-end accommodations.

For many years now, ConVis has recognized the desire of the traveler to attend special events when visiting a vacation destination. ConVis promotes San Diego's special events in advertisements, co-operative advertising programs and in visitor information literature. Ads placed in publications throughout our target markets in the Western states regularly list local special events in an effort to stimulate interest in the region. In addition, ConVis boasts a cultural tourism department within its marketing division, whose goal is to work closely with San Diego's arts and cultural community as well as with the state of California to incorporate the cultural experience into vacation itineraries.

The Internet has also contributed significantly in promoting San Diego's special events. While a comprehensive list of events and activities is made available to visitors in brochure form, more and more prospective visitors are taking advantage of the speed and ease of the Internet to plan their vacation itineraries. Our San Diego Web site at has become a popular and cost-effective means of disseminating this information to vacation planners around the world. On the average, some 240,000 users from around the world log onto the site each month to access visitor information on San Diego.

Whether a street festival in one of our many colorful neighborhoods or a sophisticated musical extravaganza in the Gaslamp Quarter, all these activities help to make San Diego desirable to the tourist. At the same time, such special events enrich the lives of all who have the privilege of making their homes in this vibrant and diverse community of San Diego.

Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at

September 25, 2003

October 23, 2003

November 20, 2003