Big Events Spur San Diego Tourism

SAN DIEGO -- California's most southerly major city and its surrounding area hope to ride a wave of positive publicity -- most recently from the NFL Super Bowl game in January -- to another strong tourism year in 1998.

Sal Giametta, the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president, communications, whose area encompasses San Diego County as well as the city, said, "We had a great year in the last fiscal year, with hotel occupancies high and record average per diems. And we're expecting another banner year."

The area began to reap a national and worldwide publicity bonanza, according to Giametta, with its selection as the site of the Republican National Convention in 1996. The wave reached an entirely different audience with the 1997 Extreme Games, sponsored by the ESPN cable network. And the 1998 Denver Broncos/Green Bay Packers match-up in the Super Bowl gave further massive impetus not just in the U.S. but in dozens of countries abroad to consumer interest in the city.

San Diego Even El Nino cooperated, according to Giametta. Although the periodic weather condition later brought heavy rainfall to San Diego, it held off long enough for the Super Bowl telecast to show nothing but blue skies and warm beaches. "Talk about timing," Giametta said. "If El Nino had hit 13 days earlier, the effects on the game, and on the perception of prospective visitors, might have been quite different."

There were, by bureau statistics, some 14.4 million overnight visitors to San Diego in 1997, contributing $4.4 billion to the county's public coffers. The county's 45,000 rooms (30,000 of them in San Diego proper) ran at an average of 71.5% occupied throughout 1997, and the per diem topped $85.

"We feel that we're well positioned this year to maintain the upward trend," Giametta said. "California, from which so much of our business comes, was the last state hit by the recession, and it has become the last to recover. But the recovery is on, and we expect it to boost our numbers."

San Diego County's position as a prime family vacation destination -- earned because of its world class zoo, the Wild Animal Park, SeaWorld of California, its beaches and water sports, museums and parks -- will be further enhanced next year by the opening of Legoland USA, in Carlsbad, a few miles north of downtown. "We're excited about the prospect for Legoland, which is due to open in the spring of 1999," Giametta said. "It fits perfectly with this area's family vacation orientation."

San Diego's airport, Lindbergh Field, where Ryan Airlines Inc., maker of Lucky Lindy's Spirit of St Louis, was based, underwent a $238 million upgrade, which gave it more gates and a cosmetic renovation. But Giametta lamented the changes will not enable the facility, possibly the nation's most conveniently located, just minutes from most major city hotels and from the convention center, to handle more international nonstop flights. The airport's runways are too short to handle fully loaded, fully fueled long-range aircraft, and there is no room for extension, he said.

For information about San Diego county or a copy of the visitors' guide, contact: San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, 401 B Street, Suite 1400, San Diego 92101-4237. Phone: (619) 232-3101, Fax: (619) 232-1707, Web:www.sandiego.org.

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