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San Diego Tourism Authority program helps minority-owned businesses access sightseers' patronage

In 2022, 28 million visitors made their way to San Diego and spent about $11 billion. The San Diego Tourism Authority, or SDTA, is helping underrepresented business owners tap into the tourism economy with their Tourism Accelerator cohort.

Julie Coker is the president and CEO of the SDTA. She is proud that their Tourism Accelerator Program is one of the first programs of its kind offered by a destination marketing organization.

“This is a give-back to our tourism community. An investment in small businesses especially those that are owned either by LGBTQ, women, veteran-owned or people of color. It's our investment back into our community,” Coker said.


Ten locally-owned small businesses were chosen for the cohort, which includes complimentary advertising and networking opportunities.

“We have amazing partners and board members and members of SDTA that will also offer mentorship and so they have access to that,” Coker said. “We also have coaching in the areas of finance and risk management and real estate and operations and marketing.”

There are no fees or profit requirements to apply, but eligible businesses must have been open for at least a year and are not currently members of SDTA.

Kebab Craft in Liberty Station is one of the businesses selected. Shannon Salhany is the owner.

“It really means so much to me, you know being born and raised here in San Diego, it just feels so good that the city is accepting me and you know really wants to promote me as a local owned business owner so it really feels so good,” Salhany went on to say, “This cohort highlighting small businesses and especially minority businesses, it really just kind of gives us a leg up and the opportunities that we wouldn't have access to otherwise.”


Salhany is grateful that the Point Loma community and tourists have embraced Kebab Craft.

“I’m super excited to take advantage of this cohort because of all of the access that they give you to different lawyers and different industry professionals and education. I definitely think that that's going to help us on our road,” Salhany said.

SDTA saw huge growth potential for Kebab Craft. Shannon and her husband Paul hope to expand their footprint in San Diego and even go national.

“We really do think that we can offer some marketing experience,” Coker said. “She'll work very closely with our marketing and advertising team. We also know that there's a possibility she may want to expand. So through the partners that we have that might be an opportunity and then also to just to really grow her business and make sure that they're taking full advantage of the tourism economy.”

SDTA has the idea of lifting up small businesses, especially diverse businesses. According to Coker, “It gives us an opportunity to bring visitors to diverse neighborhoods.”

The ten businesses are located throughout San Diego County and that's going to put more visitors into neighborhoods. You can find a full list of the cohort here.

The cohort runs for one year, but Coker said, “It's meant really to set them up for success and then the hope is that they'll continue to be members of SDTA but they'll also have lasting benefits from visitors coming to the destination.”

To learn more about San Diego Tourism’s Accelerator Program go to