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Economy

San Diego’s tourism industry welcomes the summer season

San Diego Tourism Authority Chief Operating Officer Kerri Kapich, Mayor Todd Gloria and World Design Capital San Diego Tijuana Board Chair Mai Nguyen pose with
Katie Anastas
/
KPBS
San Diego Tourism Authority Chief Operating Officer Kerri Kapich, Mayor Todd Gloria and World Design Capital San Diego Tijuana Board Chair Mai Nguyen pose with local mascots and roller skaters at the San Diego Natural History Museum on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

The San Diego Tourism Authority kicked off the summer season on Tuesday with streamers, roller skaters and local mascots at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.

Kerri Kapich, the authority’s chief operating officer, said tourism is a vital part of San Diego’s economy.

“This visitor activity supports one in eight jobs here in San Diego, either directly or indirectly,” she said. “When our tourism industry thrives, the entire San Diego region thrives.”

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California’s Employment Development Department found the leisure and hospitality sector led job growth in San Diego County between April and May, with 2,600 more jobs.

The industry also helps pay for public services. The city of San Diego said more than $170 million in hotel occupancy taxes went into its budget last year, representing 8.6% of its general fund.

“We’re talking about the money that fills potholes, that clears storm drains, that maintains our streets and sidewalks,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said.

More than 32 million people are expected to visit San Diego this year. That’s slightly more than last year, but still a few million shy of the 2019 count.

Demand for hotel rooms likely won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, according to the tourism authority.

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Brad Baer, vice chair of the San Diego County Lodging Association, said convention attendees have been key to filling rooms on weeknights as business travel has been slower to recover than leisure.

“Those visitors are taking advantage of not just the conventions, but staying longer for some leisure activities and bringing families and extending their stays,” Baer said.

He said hotels are keeping visitors in town by offering package deals for attractions like the zoo and live music venues.

“People are taking trips differently than they did prior to the pandemic, and I think hotels have reacted well,” he said.

This year marks anniversaries of several San Diego tourist attractions. Petco Park is commemorating 20 years, Legoland 25, SeaWorld 60 and the Balboa Theater 100.