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Big Stories In San Diego Tourism In 2018

December 26, 2018 1:35 p.m.

GUEST: Lori Weisberg, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Related Story: Big Stories In San Diego Tourism In 2018


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

It's hardly news that tourism is big business in San Diego. In 2017 San Diego County hosted a record 35 million visitors who spent more than ten point eight billion while in town. It said one in eight jobs locally is tied to the tourism industry. The good news. Tourism is booming again this year. My studio guest today as reporter Laurie Weisburd she covers tourism and hospitality for the San Diego Union Tribune. Welcome Lauren. Good to be here. Well the big story in your beat this year collateral issue regarding tourism rules governing short term rentals like Airbnb and vacation rentals by owner.

First we had the long awaited city ordinance and then we didn't so start with the rules that council came up with.

Yeah and this is to be to be clear this has been going on for more than three years. Every year it's been battling. So they finally reached consensus earlier this year on some new rules. And they were pretty strict. They were with allow only primary residents to rent out their homes for short term stays for up to six months out of the year. And but no second home rentals. That was the big sticking point that investor properties cannot be rented out. Also there was an effort to exclude Mission Beach and keep it the staff scrub because there are so many rentals in Mission Beach but they didn't do that.

So those rules apply to all those short term rentals that you see at the beach every summer. So that did not sit well with the short term rental platforms like Airbnb being home away.

And next thing you know it scuttled before it even took off.

They launched a referendum drive collected their signatures in 30 days and that left the council with a choice of either putting it to a vote of the people or withdrawing their newly enacted rules. And so they decided the better course of action was to simply withdraw their rules. So we're back to the drawing board back to the drawing board. Now they have the choice of waiting a whole year and then just adopting the same thing again that probably would be foolhardy because you'd see resistance again. So this referendum law allows them to adopt something different within this next year.

But it has to be substantially different. So the big question mark going forward in 2019 is what will that be. We know the mayor's office is trying to put together something again like he did last time earlier this year which didn't work but put together something that everybody can live with. And so that there are some rules of the road and we'll be waiting next year to see if there's any consensus on that but it's a very volatile issue.

All right well moving on to lagging attraction's perked up this year. One was the cruise ship industry. Let's start there.

OK yeah. Cruise ship industry has been very high in years past and then fell to a low of about 183 thousand passengers. They're back there nearly a million passengers nearly a million a day. Yes but they are back there on the rebound they're up to about they'll be up to about 340000 passengers. So that's that's almost a doubling of the of the low.

And the main problem causing that was not the cruise out of your Mexican Riviera.

Fears of violence in Mexico. The cruise lines are satisfied that the ports have addressed security issues. They've made the ports more interesting they've made port excursions more interesting and a lot of cruise lines now are leaving San Diego including Disney to go to that spot and others too. But Mexican Revere is still the dominant destination for cruisers out of San Diego.

What are some of the other places they go on.

So there's a lot of popular Panama Canal cruises and cruises to Hawaii or the other big popular cruise destination. And we should note there's a season to this it's not year right at one time we did have a year on ship but no more so it's about September October through May and then and then these cruises reposition to allow some of them to Alaska.

All right. Another troubled attraction in San Diego SeaWorld a date was way down here for a long time. Why did they get turned off to the big Aquatic Park in Mission Bay in the first place.

It all goes back to we call them Blackfish Effect the 2013 anti captivity documentary that aired repeatedly on CNN and focused on the killer whale Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando that was responsible for killing a SeaWorld trainer there. That documentary exposed what what some animal activists protectionists say was poor treatment of the killer whales that they shouldn't be in captivity anyway. Over the years.

It's really really really hurt them really depressed. I mean constant downturn in attendance especially in San Diego took a big hit and they had to change a lot of their policies. Some of them the former CEO who is no more. But he did. He came out with an announcement that they would not breed the orcas in captivity anymore they get rid of a sham news shows have a more educational orca encounter. But now the year interestingly they're back on the rebound and some credit it may be it maybe the Blackfish Effect is dying down.

They had their very value oriented their price of admission is much more reasonable than say Disney or Universal and they're adding a lot more thrill lines thrill ride for roller coasters. Yeah. In San Diego just electric eel this year and next year there's going to be another another roller coaster so they're seeing that maybe that is what we'll keep bringing bringing people back transforming and we'll see what happens on that on that score.

Well let's take a look ahead to another big story in your beat this year and then the coming year and that's expansion of the San Diego Convention Center was supposed to be on the ballot in 2018. What happened there.

This goes back to Jerry Sanders administration when he was mayor. They need a hotel tax increase to finance this convention center so there was a powerful group of business leaders and labor that got together and put together an initiative that was supposed to qualify for this last November ballot to raise the hotel tax to finance this and for homelessness and for road repairs. Everybody expected to be on the ballot totally. And then lo and behold it didn't qualify under a random count of signatures. When they did a full count it did qualify for the ballot but by then it was too late.

So really it would be the next regular election is in 2020. But there are some who would like to see a special election next year to get it done sooner. But it's kind of a political quagmire we don't know if there are enough votes on a newly elected council to do that or that that may not happen. We're waiting to see if the mayor can pull together a council majority to support a special election early next year.

What might that cost.

I mean what's the ballpark on the high sometimes like at least a million dollars. There's a measure that says that initiatives like this really have to go on a November ballot.

And the question is a simple majority or would it have to be.

And that's another that's another nuance. Right now there's a California Supreme Court decision that seems to suggest that you only need a simple majority for a tax hike when there's a citizens initiative. But it's still a very gray area and will probably be litigated to death if they got a simple majority so they need they probably really do need a two thirds majority. So even if this gets on the ballot there is a question if Sandigo voters two thirds of them will go for a tax increase.

Right well that's the new council they're going to take it up in the new mayor and a lot of things to watch for there in January it looks to be a busy beat next year. BLACKWELL Well I've been talking with a reporter Laurie Weisberger covers tourism and hospitality for the San Diego Union Tribune. Thanks Laurie.

Thank you.