Next week San Diego's visitor industry will join hands with the rest of the nation to celebrate the 22nd Annual National Tourism Week (May 7 to 14). This event recognizes the significant social, cultural and economic benefits generated by tourism locally, nationally and globally.
Tourism is the nation's third largest retail sales sector and one of America's largest employers. Yet, since travel is normally associated with the pleasure of taking a vacation, those of us not directly connected with tourism may not think of it as a serious business. In fact, it is the world's largest industry and generator of jobs.
For San Diego, tourism doesn't just mean business -- it means big business. In 2004, 15.7 overnight visitors poured $5.5 billion into the local economy, making the visitor industry San Diego's third largest following manufacturing and the military.
While one may not readily equate the image of a tourist relaxing on the beach or snapping photos in Balboa Park to a powerful economic generator, the fact remains that San Diego's dynamic visitor industry -- composed of small, medium and large business enterprises located throughout the entire county -- serves as an economic engine that drives much of our community's success and progress.
The local visitor industry provides employment for some 110,000 San Diegans in fields directly related to the industry, including lodging, food service, attractions and transportation.
Tax monies generated by overnight visitors continue to increase each year. Most San Diegans are unaware of the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) or its significance on their lives, because it is, after all, paid for by visitors who spend one or more nights in one of San Diego's 452 hotels or motels.
But it is hard to ignore the fiscal impact of the TOT, which this year will generate approximately $119 million for the city of San Diego. (This is in addition to the $17 million in sales tax generated by visitor spending.)
So what happens to these tax dollars paid by tourists and convention delegates? A significant portion of the TOT 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 TOT provides funding to hire police officers for our neighborhoods, train firefighters and promote economic development.
And it doesn't stop there. The TOT helps to maintain many of the amenities, such as Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park, the San Diego Trolley and miles of beautiful beaches that are enjoyed not only by tourists, but also by San Diego area residents. Keeping these valuable visitors coming to town has long been the job of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis), whose goal is to market San Diego as a premier leisure travel and convention destination.
The overall health of the region's visitor industry is dependent upon ConVis' ability to drive hotel room night demand for the destination. Armed with a relatively modest budget of $12.5 million (compared to the budgets of many competing destinations), ConVis utilizes a variety of advertising and marketing programs to get the most "bang for the buck" in the competitive world of destination marketing.
These include the use of the highly successful San Diego Brand in the bureau's marketing and advertising strategies. Technology, in the form of e-marketing and the development of the award-winning ConVis Web site, www.sandiego.org, remains one of the most dynamic methods of reaching potential visitors and convention delegates from around the world.
ConVis also boasts a team of seasoned hotel sales managers, located not only in San Diego but also in six remote offices across the nation. The objectives of this team are to prospect meeting professionals and sell the 120 conference and convention hotels in our region as potential corporate and association meeting venues.
The single property hotel meetings segment of the visitor industry is a significant part of our region's convention industry. The number would astound most people, but we estimate that there are more than 12,000 hotel meetings that occur in San Diego annually -- from Rancho Bernardo to Mission Bay to downtown to Mission Valley, and everywhere else in between.
While leisure travelers generate nearly half of the 10 million room nights sold in our region annually, single property hotel meetings comprise 27 percent of the total room nights; therefore, they are a major source of business for San Diego hotels. For example, the Town & Country Hotel in Mission Valley will host more than 280 meetings this year.
Needless to say, when a hotel meeting comes to town, it generates far more than just room nights. Conventions utilize a wide range of services provided by local businesses, such as audio-visual companies, special events personnel, staging and design teams, linen providers, florists and musicians, to name just a few. One hotel meeting group alone could have an economic impact that directly and indirectly reaches out to dozens of San Diego businesses.
ConVis constantly researches ways to most cost-effectively market the entire San Diego region to both the leisure and convention market. Overall, it's a huge job on a limited budget, but ConVis has been able to show a significant return on its investment.
Tourism's significant contributions to our local economy, and the role ConVis plays in its success, can't be underestimated. Not only does the industry pay for itself, it also provides a critical source of funding to underwrite programs and projects of primary benefit to San Diegans. Among so many others, this is one big reason for San Diego to celebrate National Tourism Week.
Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at email@example.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.