Coming off a record year for visitation, San Diego County welcomed 7.6 million tourists during the first three months of this year, reaching a new quarterly high.
The latest figures, released Thursday by the San Diego Tourism Authority, show marked improvements in visitation and spending over the same period last year as larger numbers of out-of-towners booked hotel stays, visited museums and theme parks or just came to the county for a day.
Overall visitation to the county grew by 8.4 percent during the last quarter, while visitor spending, which totaled $2.5 billion, increased by more than 5 percent, tourism officials reported. Also up were overnight visitors — 4 million — and hotel occupancy — 77 percent.
Even attendance at San Diego’s largest attractions, from the zoo and SeaWorld to the Midway aircraft carrier and Legoland, was up, growing by 16.5 percent, helped along by better performance at SeaWorld following years of declining attendance.
The quarterly results reflect a still robust tourism economy that extends to the entire state of California. Visit California, which just released year-end numbers this week, reported that tourist spending of more than $132 million rose nearly 5 percent in California, marking the industry’s eighth consecutive year of growth.
For all of 2017, San Diego County hosted a record 35 million visitors, who spent more than $10.8 billion while here. Los Angeles County reported this week that it, too, reached a new high for visitation in 2017 — 48.5 million, including 7.3 million international tourists.
“We’re encouraged by the improvements over the first quarter of last year,” said Joe Terzi, CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. “We’ve seen significant increases in visitation, so these are very positive numbers and last year was a record year, so how can we not be encouraged?”
The release of the new visitor numbers came on the same day of the Tourism Authority’s annual meeting. The agency used the occasion to trumpet its successes and also look ahead to future projects like the hoped-for expansion of the city’s convention center and Seaport Village makeover that it hopes will drive more tourists to San Diego.
Terzi reminded his audience of the competition San Diego is facing around the country, from the new Star Wars attraction coming to Disneyland to a planned convention center expansion in Las Vegas.
At the same time that visitation to San Diego has been growing, both domestically and internationally, the Tourism Authority has been spending increasing sums of money marketing the city. Total media spending for this fiscal year, ending June 30, will be $20.7 million, up from nearly $18 million the previous year, and tourism officials are proposing a marketing budget for the coming year of $21.5 million, which could potentially grow by an additional $5 million.
While Terzi is buoyed by the latest numbers, he believes family travel to San Diego has weakened in recent years and needs a boost. So, too, does visitation from Los Angeles-area residents, he said.
The Tourism Authority has been tracking visitation from the L.A. area since the recession’s end through 2015 and has seen a noticeable decline. Focus groups revealed that some residents are turned off by the traffic congestion and are not finding anything new or buzz-worthy to draw them back to San Diego since their last visit.
Advertising targeting family travel also has fallen off, in part because SeaWorld no longer invests in a joint advertising program that stopped in 2015. Attendance at the San Diego park also has declined in recent years, affecting overall tourism numbers, Terzi said.
New attractions like the Electric Eel coaster that opened Thursday will help, he added.
“Any new attraction is helpful, but it depends on what they can do to get the message out that there are new, exciting things happening at SeaWorld,” Terzi said. “We are working with them to assist.
“We also were able to get them featured in the new Visit California family spot, ‘Adventures in Kidifornia,’ that will be the key commercial running for the California campaign.”
Article by the The San Diego Union-Tribune