I'm very pleased to report that 2003 was a very strong year for San Diego's visitor industry. The official year-end visitor statistics, released just last week, clearly show that our region remains one of the nation's favorite visitor destinations. In fact, San Diego placed third in the nation for the highest hotel occupancy in 2003, according to Smith Travel Research (STR) -- a significant accomplishment that speaks to the quality and service of our entire visitor industry.
The San Diego region hosted 15.4 million visitors last year (2.2 percent more than in 2002). While they were here, these visitors opened their wallets to contribute a whopping $5.3 billion to our local economy, reflecting a robust 5.9 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
Accordingly, demand for rooms in San Diego grew more than 5 percent, placing it third in the nation for demand growth behind Anaheim and Phoenix. When demand is strong, hotels can charge more for their rooms. This factor led to a 2.2 percent increase in San Diego's average daily room rate, to $111.34 in 2003. This was the fifth highest average daily rate among the top 25 cities, behind New York ($169), San Francisco ($117), Boston ($117) and Oahu ($116), according to STR.
While this news comes as a welcome relief to our visitor industry -- San Diego's third largest -- we definitely cannot rest on our laurels and assume that we will continue to remain at the top without applying continued efforts and resources to convince visitors to come here, stay longer and return often.
How do we do this? Selling travel is like selling any other product. Your advertising and marketing programs must be effective in hitting the right market with the right message. In many cases, if a product can be "branded" to produce a certain feeling or loyalty on the part of the consumer, you are way ahead of the game.
Simply put, a "brand" is whatever a consumer thinks of when he or she hears the name of a company, product or service -- Nike or Starbucks, for example. The mere mention of these names conjures up a distinct image in people's minds.
The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis) markets the San Diego brand. Our logo utilizes warm yellows and oranges reminiscent of sun and sunset to reinforce this brand, which positions the San Diego region as a place where visitors can enjoy the best of the Southern California lifestyle and escape the pressures of everyday life.
San Diego's appeal as a popular close-in drive and short-haul flight destination for leisure travelers certainly helped keep us at the top of the national charts this past year. In addition, the bureau's innovative branding campaign had much to do with influencing the travel consumer's decision to choose San Diego over our competitors, many of whom, as in the case of Las Vegas, have an advertising budget significantly larger than ours. And believe me, those potential tourists and convention delegates out there are being aggressively solicited by our competitors. People definitely have a choice as to where they vacation or do business, so we need to convince them that San Diego is, as our advertising slogan promises, "easy to get to, impossible to let go."
ConVis is banking on the San Diego brand to attract a new audience of visitors in 2004. We recently unveiled our latest advertising campaign, "Good Vibes," designed to reinforce the visitors' impression of San Diego as the ideal travel destination that will satisfy all their vacation needs.
The campaign's creative elements include collages of "special moments" that speak to a variety of audiences, from couples to families to friends of all ages. Leisure, one of the recurring themes of the campaign, is showcased through San Diego's iconic beach culture, as well as a wide variety of activities including nightlife and golfing.
The ads use creative photos of people representing some of our target audiences (families, couples, Gen-Xers) enjoying some aspect of our region while here on vacation. Each ad captures a part of the San Diego lifestyle and unique Southern California experiences found only here. They show San Diego as a place that offers the traveler a respite from the demands, frustrations and fears that seem to consume our daily lives -- some "good vibes" that will refresh and rejuvenate.
Needless to say, in this fast paced, insecure and ever-changing world, this can be a very powerful and attractive message indeed.
The campaign features a series of print ads running in national and regional lifestyle magazines, including InStyle, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Vanity Fair, Gourmet, Men's Health, Parents, Organic Style and Yoga Journal, among others. The ads are also part of an outdoor billboard campaign and a television spot that will run in key markets in Dallas, Las Vegas and Sacramento.
The "Good Vibes" campaign will help reinforce San Diego's attraction as a popular weekend travel destination, which is especially important now to offset any negative effects that may come from a continued weak business travel market. Weekend business is very strong for our destination; in fact, STR reports that San Diego's average daily rate for hotel rooms on weekends throughout 2003 was approximately 35 percent higher than the national average.
As in any business, we will continue to fine-tune our marketing strategies to get the most return on our advertising dollar. We closely watch developing market trends and adjust our advertising accordingly. We currently target nine major marketing initiatives to broaden San Diego's appeal to leisure travelers. These include family attractions, golf, arts and culture, dining, shopping, resorts and spas, waterfront amenities, casino, and "nature and nurture," which emphasizes outdoor recreation and wellness.
With the power of branding and the award-winning work of the ConVis sales and marketing team, we hope to see yet another year of growth for tourism in our region as more visitors from all over the world visit San Diego for a truly enjoyable travel experience, all the while enriching our local economy and government tax coffers with the dollars they leave behind before heading home with memories of a lifetime.
Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at email@example.com.