California tourism expected to survive fierce wildfires in SoCal

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As wildfires continued to burn large areas of Southern California, the California travel industry is emphasizing that airports and major attractions, such as Disneyland and the San Diego Zoo, are open and operating normally.

In the hardest hit area, San Diego County, the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, via its Web site at www.sandiego.org, is putting out the message that much of the county's main tourist and business travel destinations are unaffected.

"We do not want to minimize the terrible situation of those who lost homes, but we want to get the word out that the wildfires affected certain residential areas and that San Diego is open for tourism," David Peckinpaugh, bureau president and CEO, told Travel Weekly. He said the bureau plans to launch a PR and advertising campaign to assure travelers that all is well for visitors to the area.

 

For those with concerns about particulate matter and soot in the air, the bureau's site has a link to the San Diego Air Pollution Control District air quality site, which breaks down air quality by county zone, including the downtown core.

While some attractions, most notably SeaWorld and Legoland, closed for a few days, they were scheduled to reopen by Friday. The San Diego Zoo never closed, and downtown hotels and air service were never affected. In addition, the San Diego Convention Center and hotels located in central San Diego were never threatened by the fires.

October is the peak month in San Diego for meetings and conventions and there were "a few" cancellations, Peckinpaugh said, adding that the impact on leisure travel is not yet known.

"We are open for business despite the challenges posed by these devastating fires," said Carol Wallace, President and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corp., which markets, manages and operates the center, said in a statement.

More than 6,000 attendees participated in the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting at the downtown convention center, which was scheduled for Oct. 23 to 27.

According to the convention center, event attendees freed up hotel rooms for local evacuees by doubling-up on rooms and volunteered to provide medical assistance to evacuees, meanwhile, the ASHG has launched a relief fund to help provide additional resources to local relief efforts.

"We have been deeply touched and appreciative of the incredible efforts made by ASHG attendees, exhibitors, as well as ASHG meeting organizers who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to support the relief efforts currently underway in San Diego," said Wallace.

As firefighters continued to fight the wildfires, many hotels in the San Diego region offered discounted rooms to evacuees and firefighters.

Meanwhile, in northern San Diego County, the luxury Rancho Bernardo Inn escaped serious damage. The resort, which is currently undergoing a $25 million renovation, took in about 60 local residents who had been evacuated on Sunday night. However, the next morning guests and staff at the resort had to be evacuated. They were not able to return until two days later.

The resort suffered minimal damage to its golf course and hotel, some of it caused not by fire but by damage from the fierce Santa Ana winds.

The California Travel and Tourism Commission, which debuted a TV advertising campaign with a playful theme featuring celebrities in early October, pulled the advertising until Nov. 4 to evaluate whether to tweak the message.

The CTTC now is attempting to "calm the fears of prospective visitors" and spread the message that "not all California is closed for business. Southern California airports, hotels and most attractions are open for business." The CTTC is urging visitors to call to confirm flights, road conditions and hours of operation instead of canceling travel plans.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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