It's no secret that millions of tourists descend upon San Diego annually -- many of them with plenty of questions about things to see and do in the region. For the past 19 years, our visitors have taken advantage of the best place to get answers for just about anything pertaining to San Diego by contacting the visitor information experts at the International Visitor Information Center (IVIC), the official visitor center operated by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis).
A few weeks ago, IVIC made its move from Horton Plaza to its new location at the foot of West Broadway and Harbor Drive, made possible through a partnership between the Port of San Diego and ConVis that created the space and funding for the new center. With the move, we expect to at least triple the walk-in traffic to IVIC, thanks to the more central, visible and accessible location.
Since opening in October 1985, IVIC multilingual staff and volunteers have answered more than 2.5 million inquiries, including 1.5 million phone calls and e-mails, and direct questions from 850,000 walk-in visitors.
Tourism is San Diego's third largest industry, generating more than $5.4 billion annually for our local economy. In 2003, approximately 26 million guests visited San Diego, enjoying our destination while filling the cash registers of countless numbers of businesses throughout our region.
I'm constantly being asked the question: Just who is San Diego's typical tourist? Every few years, ConVis commissions a research study to find out the answer to that very important question. According to our latest visitor profile conducted for us by CIC Research, the region's average visitor is 44 years old, lives in the western United States, has a median household income of $70,100 and travels here for pleasure. In fact, 87 percent of San Diego's visitors are leisure travelers, while convention and meeting delegates comprise 13 percent of our visitor market.
The Baby Boomer generation continues to be a hot market for the nation's travel industry, and it's no different for San Diego. Thirty-four percent of San Diego's leisure travelers visit in groups of two or more adults, over 45, without children. Almost 60 million Americans, or about 28 percent of the adult population, are at least 55 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As they retire, this affluent segment of the population will have time and money on their hands to enjoy travel -- and San Diego stands ready to offer them a wide variety of activities and amenities to satisfy their every taste.
There's no question that San Diego also continues to be a popular destination for families with children. Our statistics show that one-quarter of our visitors travel with children in tow. Another 25 percent are adults traveling alone.
Where do they come from? San Diego is a popular close-in destination for Californians, and our statistics prove it. Some 30 percent of our visitors come from Southern California, with another 10 percent from other areas of California. Our neighbors in Arizona send us 16 percent of our visitors, while travelers from other western and mountain states account for 15 percent. The remaining overnight visitors come from other regions of the United States.
About 4 percent of San Diego's overnight guests are international visitors.
How do they get here? After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, San Diego became the destination of choice for visitors looking for a vacation spot a short drive away. This trend is reflected in the most recent visitor transportation statistics, which report that 82 percent of overnight visitors use a personal or friend's vehicle to travel around San Diego.
In addition, 9 percent use a rental vehicle, 5 percent book a tour bus and 3 percent ride a local bus, the trolley or a shuttle bus. A quarter of San Diego's visitors arrive by air.
Where do they stay? Our local hotels and motels accommodate more than half (51 percent) of all overnight visitors to San Diego. It may also not surprise many of you that 45 percent are houseguests of relatives or friends!
Why do they come? Our studies show that leisure travelers seek out San Diego for a variety of reasons. Our numerous attractions, our beaches, the nearly perfect climate and the opportunity to visit family and friends are all strong incentives.
According to our survey, 19 percent of all vacation visitors stated the beaches and ocean are the reason they selected San Diego for a vacation. Another 19 percent said they simply "loved San Diego." And when they do come, our visitors like the experience so much that a full 81 percent of all surveyed visitors stated that they planned to return to San Diego within two years.
How do they find us? It should come as no surprise that almost half of the visitors surveyed (47 percent) found information on San Diego as a vacation destination on the Internet. Word of mouth also works wonders, as a full 39 percent of those surveyed told us that their friends and relatives were the source of their information about San Diego.
So the next time you see tourists, camera in hand, strolling along the beach, shopping in our malls or walking through Balboa Park, you'll have a better idea of who they are, how they got here and what they'll be doing while they enjoy the beautiful place we call home.
With 2004 officially underway, I would like to wish you all a healthy and prosperous new year. San Diego would not be such a popular destination for visitors and business groups without the people who give our region the warmth and vibrancy our visitors notice and enjoy -- and come back to experience again and again. Thank you, San Diego, for your support of our visitor industry.
Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at email@example.com.