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San Diego tourism continues to suffer from COVID-19 pandemic

The San Diego Convention Center in this undated photo

San Diego’s tourism industry is inching back from the crushing COVID-19 lock downs, but a complete recovery remains on the distant horizon.

The San Diego Convention Center is a key indicator for how well the hospitality industry is doing. If people are coming to San Diego on business, there is a good chance local hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-related businesses are doing well.

The convention center was an early casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.


“We haven’t had convention business since the spring of 2020,” said Todd Gloria, San Diego’s Mayor. “Until it resumed again in August of 2021. In that interim period, what you saw was something unprecedented.”

The facility served as a homeless shelter, and then as a safe haven for migrant girls detained while trying to cross the US-Mexico border.

Gloria said it was a public structure that could not remain shuttered while there was a public need.

Repurposing the taxpayer-owned structure, however, meant it was not generating tax revenue for 17 months.

RELATED: San Diego Tourism Authority Books 57 Future Conventions


That’s why San Diego officials celebrated the facility’s first convention this past August.

“That was good news to me because those are visitors coming to town, staying in our hotels, spending money in restaurants, “ Gloria said. “Those are dollars that flow from those hotel room checks to the city’s coffers and I in turn use to pave our streets, pay our police officers and keep our libraries open.”

The center will end up hosting more than a dozen conventions by year end but they are not the conventions of years past.

“A lot of meeting and conventions right now their attendance is about, they’re averaging about 40% of what they were in 2019,” said Julie Coker, head of the San Diego Tourism Authority.

Conventions that have been held usually have a virtual component for those who cannot or will not make the trip.

They also have a vaccination or COVID-19 testing policy that the state requires for large gatherings.

RELATED: San Diego Tourism Leader Ponders A Post COVID-19 World

San Diego's tourism industry trying to make come back from COVID 19 lockdowns

Coker is optimistic 2022 will be a better year, but she is also realistic.

“It’s not going to be an overnight fix,” Coker said. “We’re definitely in for the long haul before tourism returns but we definitely know that San Diego is in a much better position than other cities and we’re poised for a great return.”

The shutdowns were devastating for the hospitality sector. The tourism sector used to generate more than 200,000 jobs. The hospitality sector currently only employs 165,000 workers.

A business survey by the consumer group CoPilot found California’s economy was the 10th most impacted by concerns about COVID-19.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic analysis found the amount of economic activity generated by the state’s arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors is down 37.7%. Accommodation and food services is down 21%.