May has traditionally been the month to celebrate good things -- be it May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day or the coming of summer.
This May, the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, or ConVis, has an additional reason to celebrate, as we join the rest of the nation in observance of National Tourism Week, May 8-15. Above all, this annual nationwide event gives the visitor industry an opportunity to trumpet the significant social, cultural and economic benefits generated by tourism and travel locally, nationally and globally.
Just how big are these benefits?
Travel and tourism -- encompassing transportation, catering, accommodations, recreation and services for travelers -- is actually the world's largest industry and generator of jobs.
Each day in the United States, tourists spend $1.4 billion, which translates to $60 million an hour, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
As we celebrate this coming week, we will at the same time continue our own yearlong observance of ConVis' 50th anniversary. This major milestone gives us an opportunity to take a retrospective look at the phenomenal development of San Diego's visitor industry over the decades and the pivotal role ConVis has played and continues to play in this remarkable evolution.
When the first ConVis office opened its doors in 1954, the staff began with a big mission -- to market San Diego as the nation's premiere vacation and convention destination.
Much has changed over the past five decades, but ConVis' tireless dedication to its mission has remained constant.
Though few of us were around in 1954 to know what San Diego's infrastructure offered the visitor back then, many of us can surely recall the dramatic development of the visitor industry over the past 20 years. In the early '80s, we watched the Gaslamp Quarter go through a metamorphosis, fueled by the construction of Horton Plaza in what were then several blighted blocks in the heart of downtown.
Then came the construction of the San Diego Convention Center, followed by new hotel development not only in the downtown area, but all across San Diego County. Legoland was built, adding to the palette of attractions we could offer visitors, and the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld continued to add new attractions to their parks. Lindbergh Field underwent a renovation, allowing better service for millions of passengers passing through the turnstiles each year.
These past few years saw even more dramatic change. The recent opening of Petco Park and the adjacent Omni Hotel, the construction of the second tower of the San Diego Hyatt Regency, and the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum scheduled to open in June are just some examples of new projects that add immeasurably to San Diego's overall appeal as a first-class visitor destination.
Obviously, it's no secret that the visitor industry has developed into a multibillion-dollar business for San Diego. It's the third largest industry behind manufacturing and the military. Last year, San Diego welcomed 26.4 million visitors, who poured more than $5.3 billion into the County's economy. Some 110,000 San Diegans throughout the region worked in fields directly related to the visitor industry, including lodging, food service, attractions and transportation.
And there's more icing on the cake. Visitors to San Diego generated a total of $108 million in Transient Occupancy Tax in fiscal year 2003 for the city of San Diego alone -- and $138 million countywide.
Most San Diegans are unaware of the tax or its significance on their lives, because it is, after all, paid for by visitors who spend the night in one of the region's hotels or motels.
In the city of San Diego, a significant portion of the tax is used to supplement the city's General Fund and underwrite basic municipal services, such as road repair and park maintenance. These revenues also help fund cultural events, arts organizations and community-based programs throughout the city. In addition, the tax provides funding to hire police officers, train firefighters and promote economic development.
The tax also helps maintain many amenities enjoyed, not only by tourists, but also by residents, such as Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park and the San Diego Trolley. The occupancy tax is also the source of funding for the expansion of San Diego's enormously successful Convention Center, Petco Park and the proposed central library.
National Tourism Week may just seem like media hype to some, but to those of us who know the value of our cherished visitors -- be they tourists or convention delegates -- it becomes yet another reason to celebrate our good fortune. It also gives all of us at the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau pause to reflect on the tremendous strides this industry has made over the past 50 years and the important role our bureau has played in this dramatic evolution.
Not only do we live in a destination popular with visitors from around the world, but those same visitors also provide us with revenues needed to support our exceptional quality of life.
Now that's something to celebrate.
Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at email@example.com.