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Monday, Dec 4, 2023

TOURISM–Venues Ride Convention Center’s Expansion Coattails

Attracting Larger Business Market A Boost for Revenues

Earlier this month, 432 conventioneers from the American Academy of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology attended a product launch party at SeaWorld San Diego for San Francisco-based gazoontite.com.

The two titles are particularly apt for the marketing situation. While SeaWorld and other local tourist hubs focus on luring visitors to their shows or attractions, their special event business has never been anything to, well, sneeze at.

In fact, with the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center heading toward completion in September 2001, and larger groups being booked for it, many in the hospitality industry have been looking at what those groups will need from venues.

“What’s happened is that this is a question of recognition of what’s out there, what’s coming in and what will be coming into the city,” said Laurie Peters, a specialist for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Convention Services Department.

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A recent re-entrant in the venue market is the Museum of Photographic Arts, which recently moved back into its renovated Balboa Park home.

Among the changes for MoPA was a larger foyer, which can be used as a special event venue. It seats 200 people and has a standing capacity of 700, said Sandra Wagner, MoPA’s spokeswoman. The museum also added a small kitchen.

The museum’s events income is expected to be 10 percent of its $1.8 million operating budget this year, Wagner said. The figure includes the institution’s own events and those from outside groups, possibly amounting to 50 to 60 this year, she said.

Retaining Its Focus

Wagner is quick to mention the focus of the museum is its exhibits and artwork. Although special events are one way the museum generates money, it also brings more of the public to the museum, she said.

“In our minds, people are not coming here just for the events,” Wagner said. “Once they’re here, they will see our facility as a whole.”

The income makes a difference for the museums, Peters said.

“When it comes to raising funds, I can’t think of a better way to do it, because they’re so dependent on admissions and the generosity of their benefactors,” she said. “This is another way of increasing their funds, and it’s a very smart way.”

At SeaWorld, special event business from local and visiting companies totals 2 & #733; percent, said park spokesman Bob Tucker.

“It’s a small part of our business, but a growing one,” Tucker said.

Tucker didn’t divulge how much money the venue business generates for the park, but he did say visiting conventions add up to about 30 percent. The remainder comes from local companies.

According to park estimates, SeaWorld hosted 100 convention-related events in 1999, Tucker said. The park expects the same for 2000, he said. At least 25 bookings have been made so far, he said.

Possible Expansion

Tucker also said the aquatic theme park will likely build a new special-events facility on its Mission Bay site. It would be similar to a successful venue at the SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., where the convention market is strong.

The project could cost $10 million, Tucker said. The park’s managers are in the final stages of determining the project’s feasibility before making a capital request to its corporate office, Tucker said. SeaWorld is owned by St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc.

Tucker said the new venue could be open by June 2001.

The Convention Center’s expansion prompted the project, Tucker said. “We see it as a good boost for our business here,” he said.

Others in the tourism industry have envisioned what the expanded convention business will do to the market, said ConVis’ Peters.

“They know there’s going to be an increased need, and they’re going to increase their ability to take larger groups,” she said.

Management at newly-bought Knott’s Soak City USA plan to build a catering facility by the end of this summer, said park director Marty Keithley. The 4-year-old Chula Vista waterpark will open this May for its first season under a new owner, Ohio-based Cedar Fair LLC.

The project’s cost has not been finalized, he said. Currently, the park has outside caterers, but the plan includes bringing the operations in-house, Keithley said.

The convention business could also provide long-term opportunity, he said.

Last year, the park hosted approximately 30 events and 10,000 people, Keithley said. “We’d like that to triple or quadruple in the next couple years,” he said.

Special events generate about 5 percent of its sales, according to Keithley who said he wants that to increase to 15-20 percent.

The number of calls requesting a venue that’s unusual or “distinctly San Diego” are increasing, Peters said.

Other venues have developed in the county. Miramar Marine Corps Air Station is popular for “Top Gun”-themed parties, Peters said.

Camp Pendleton recently began hosting special events, including beachfront parties near landing crafts, and in hangars alongside a Cobra attack helicopter, she said.


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