Today, the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau celebrates a major milestone: its 50th anniversary and a half century of promoting the San Diego region as the nation's premier convention and visitor destination.
To say that San Diego's visitor industry and ConVis have come a long way in those 50 years would be an understatement. What started out in 1954 as a one-room office on Broadway, run by a handful of staff, has blossomed into the ConVis bureau of today, manned by a team of highly professional associates with decades of sales and marketing experience under their belts.
The history of ConVis and San Diego's visitor industry is a colorful one. Back in 1936, prominent civic leader Joseph E. Dryer formed the "San Diego Heaven on Earth Club" to promote San Diego as a region suited for both travel and investment. However, it wasn't until 1954 that ConVis as we know it today was formed. The San Diego Convention and Tourist Bureau also was incorporated as a not-for-profit private corporation with the mission to "promote the visitor industry, with particular emphasis on the attraction of meetings, conventions, leisure visitors and events that generate overnight accommodations."
Back then, the bureau's membership was comprised of 130 companies, mostly hotels and attractions that included the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. The visitor industry was a powerful economic generator for the region, as it is today, giving jobs to 7,500 residents and producing more than $54 million in revenue in 1954.
San Diego's visitor industry was destined to bloom and prosper. In 1964, SeaWorld of San Diego opened its doors, providing the region with another significant tourism generator. It remains one of San Diego's major visitor attractions, having hosted nearly 229 million visitors since its opening 40 years ago.
In 1972, the Zoological Society of San Diego opened the Wild Animal Park, an 1,800-acre preserve dedicated to exhibiting animals in an open, natural environment. In its first year alone, the Wild Animal Park attracted an unprecedented 780,000 visitors. Today, it remains one of our region's premier visitor attractions that also boasts a worldwide reputation for its dedicated efforts to preserve endangered species.
The '80s were marked by tremendous growth in the visitor industry -- in the face of significant adversity. We had our share of naysayers in that decade.
When the city of San Diego proposed the construction of the San Diego Trolley, which would link downtown to San Ysidro, many called it the "trolley folly" and opposed its construction. But when the first red trolley cars began service in 1981, San Diegans looking for an efficient and inexpensive public transit alternative embraced the trolley system. Today, it provides convenient transportation for visitors and residents alike. It's an important selling point in soliciting convention business since delegates, who often arrive without rental cars.
Despite significant opposition, Horton Plaza opened its doors in 1985. Spanning seven blocks and rising five levels high, the complex quickly became a favorite mall for downtown workers and an instant tourist attraction for visitors from around the world. Its creation sparked a wave of commercial and residential development that helped revitalize and reenergize downtown San Diego's urban core.
1989 was a pivotal year, as it marked the opening of the San Diego Convention Center. After years of debate and ballot propositions, the project was finally approved by the public in 1984 and opened its doors to rave reviews. It has been a success story ever since. The center completed an expansion in 2001 that doubled its size. Since opening, the San Diego Convention Center has hosted 3,090 conventions with 11.5 million delegates generating nearly $11 billion in economic impact for our region.
While San Diego was dramatically changing its face, ConVis continued its aggressive marketing of the region. In 1991, the ConVis Hotel Meetings sales team hit the 1,000 mark, producing 1,049 sales leads and booking 340,000 definite hotel room nights. More than a decade later, production has tripled, with 3,000 sales leads and more than 650,000 definite room nights produced annually.
In 1995, ConVis entered the world of cyberspace. We were one of the first convention and visitor bureaus nationally to develop our own Web site, www.sandiego.org, and offer e-mail communication to our customers. Since the site's launch over a decade ago, our site has welcomed more than 12 million visits by Internet users around the globe.
With the opening of Legoland California in 1999, San Diego got its first major theme park in 27 years, bringing increased visitor revenues to San Diego's North County. Established as a place where kids rule, Legoland has added greatly to San Diego's national popularity as a family vacation destination.
In 2003, San Diego was again in the eyes of the world as host of its third NFL Super Bowl, which generated an estimated $366 million of economic impact to the region. Blessed with incredibly clear and warm winter weather that Super Bowl Sunday, millions of television viewers in cold weather climes around the world saw San Diego at its winter best.
2004 has also been a milestone year for the visitor industry, bringing us the much-anticipated USS Midway aircraft carrier museum (an instant hit with visitors) as well as Petco Park, which sparked new construction and renovation in downtown's East Village. San Diego enjoyed top national ranking in hotel occupancy for many weeks this past summer, and passenger traffic at Lindbergh Field broke all records in August. In addition, San Diego was recently named the nation's most desired meeting destination in a study by a prestigious national research group. This same study named ConVis the best convention and visitors bureau in the nation.
Now, at the time of its 50th anniversary, ConVis prepares for a new half century. As the engine behind our community's third largest industry, ConVis has the experience and leadership needed to keep San Diego on top in the nation's tourism competition. We look forward to working with our members, industry partners, local government and community stakeholders, to shape the next 50 years for our region.
The future of San Diego's dynamic visitor industry is indeed as bright as its remarkable past.
Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.