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Comic-Con a reliable weekend for suffering tourism industry

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For local hoteliers, Comic-Con’s greatest super power is its reliability.

The tourism industry was one of the first and worst hit by the recession. But no matter how bad things get, local hotels know that for four days in late July their rooms will be packed with fans of the popular arts. In a down economy, that consistency can be as a vital as a caped crusader’s secret identity.

"For the hotel industry and the hospitality industry, it gives them a block of business they can count on," said Joe Terzi, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. "It’s a great event to have happening in the city on a regular basis."

To be fair, the recession has not left San Diego County’s hotels completely empty, nor has it turned the Gaslamp Quarter into a ghost town. In fact, Heather Ashby, marketing manager of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, said the downtown tourist center has been strong all summer.

"From what I know, the economy has affected everybody, but the Gaslamp’s been holding up," Ashby said.

This year’s Memorial Day weekend was one of the strongest for the Gaslamp in some time, she added.

But Namara Mercer, executive director of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association, said hotels have been offering discount rates, so while they’re selling rooms, they’re not making the same revenues. Plus, other conventions aren’t drawing as many attendees as in year’s past.

"Will (Comic-Con) make the season? No," Mercer said. "But it is a great annual revenue generator for the industry."

The Comic-Con crowd is a diverse one, spanning all ages and economic levels. That means rooms are booked in both the high-end hotels that overlook the harbor, and some of the more modestly priced hotels in Mission Valley, or outside the city.

There are 56,000 hotel room nights in San Diego County, and they’re nearly all sold out when Comic-Con is in town, Terzi said.

He also noted that people often come to Comic-Con every year, which means they know the city and take good advantage of all it has to offer.

"They don’t spend as much as other (convention attendees), but they know the market," he said.

Comic-Con itself gets bigger every year. Last year was the first time the convention was completely sold out in advance, and this year all the tickets were snapped up by April. Steve Johnson, the vice president of public affairs for the San Diego Convention Center, said many attendees reserve their rooms a year in advance from the block of rooms the Convention Center sells.

"It is typically the highest occupancy countywide for the four days of [Comic-Con] than any other time of the year," Johnson said in an e-mail. "Occupancies over the four days range from 90 to 98 percent and the rates typically increase anywhere between 15 to 25 percent from the week prior or after [Comic-Con] due to the heavy demand."

The fact that Comic-Con comes on the heels of another major conference, the ESRI User Conference, which is a gathering for GIS professionals, is another boost for the local economy, he said.

"We are optimistic that given ESRI, which is in our building this week, and Comic-Con next week, that we will have helped pump some needed business into the region," Johnson said.

Send your comments to Elizabeth.Malloy@sddt.com

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