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ConVis Earmarks $3.5M Hotel Funding for National Campaign

The county’s tourism marketing agency recently got a $3.5 million shot in the arm to get travelers in a San Diego frame of mind.

The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau received the money in December in a lump sum from the Tourism Marketing District, a self-assessed fee on hotels, said bureau President and CEO David Peckinpaugh.

It comes on top of the regular TMD funding the bureau receives for its operating budget, and will be spent on national cable television advertising to supplement its “spot” campaign consisting of network TV, the Internet and print media.

Both the national and the spot campaigns will launch in March and run through the spring, said Sarah Metee, an account executive with MeringCarson advertising.

MeringCarson, which has offices in Sacramento and Encinitas, and has extensive experience in tourism advertising, became the bureau’s agency of record in the spring of last year.

The preliminary budget for the spot campaign is roughly $1.3 million, she added.

ConVis was crunching the numbers for its budget last week, so if the sum allocated for spot advertising is solidified, the agency would spend a total of $4.8 million on its entire spring campaign.

Metee couldn’t give further details, since the markets to be targeted are still being worked out, and ads are still being designed.

Focus-Group Research

But MeringCarson’s Creative Director Rob Petrie said the strategy to develop the campaign employed focus-group research to find out what former and potential San Diego visitors had to say about the destination.

On top of that a little Zen is being applied, he explained.

From the focus groups the agency learned that people have very positive opinions about San Diego, particularly when compared to some other popular destinations like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, “anywhere in Arizona,” or Orlando, Fla., Petrie said.

“The idea was to find out how people feel about San Diego and how they felt when they were here,” he added.

Armed with that information, the agency’s plan is to use a Zen approach called “gross national happiness” and to position San Diego as the “epicenter of happiness.”

Those words and phrases will not appear in any of the advertising.

“But this will be the foundation on which the house will be built,” Petrie said.

It’s called rebranding, said Metee.

Or pulling tourists out of hats, perhaps?

Inns Light Up Vacancy Signs

The numbers for the lodging industry have been off nationwide, and this fall San Diego saw some of the steepest monthly and weekly slides in room occupancy and profitability among the country’s top destinations. During the week of Christmas, for example, occupancy was off 24.4 percent to 42.5 percent compared to the same week the prior year, according to Smith Travel Research.

Even ConVis isn’t sure of its total operating budget, which now comes primarily from the TMD and private sources such as membership dues.

The bureau’s operating budget for fiscal 2009 is $21.4 million. Of that sum, $15.7 million is projected to come from the TMD.

“We know this figure will be lower,” ConVis spokesman Sal Giametta said, referring to the TMD allotment. “But by how much we are not certain at this time.”


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