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Visitor Count Flowers After Winter Showers

After feeling the pinch from the anti-carb phenomena, Carol Blomestrom said she prayed to the restaurant gods to help restore her business.

Apparently her prayers were answered, because patronage at Lotsa Pasta, her Pacific Beach eatery, has been on the upswing lately , increasing by nearly 15 percent during spring break compared with the same time last year.

“My business was suffering,” Blomestrom said. “This year it’s better.”

Having college rowing teams in town in early April for the San Diego Crew Classic also helped boost business, she said.

While donating hundreds of spaghetti dinners for the collegiate athletes , something she does annually , event followers in turn flocked to the restaurant, Blomestrom said.

On the whole, “Restaurants held their own or did a bit better during spring break than they did last year,” said Steve Zolezzi, the executive vice president of the San Diego Food & Beverage Association.

In recent months, gas prices that spiked to about $2.35 a gallon for regular unleaded throughout the county in mid-March cut into the restaurant industry’s profit margins, Zolezzi said, as vendors and suppliers tacked surcharges onto their bills.

Typically, restaurants experience a slowdown during April, Zolezzi added. Yet Downtown’s eateries could be an exception to the rule, particularly if convention business is strong.

Judging from a calendar for the San Diego Convention Center Corp., which shows there are nine major events in the 2.6 million-square-foot waterfront facility in April, three in the San Diego Concourse and two operas in the San Diego Civic Center , business should be strong.

Additionally, bars and restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter and the East Village should derive the benefit of Petco Park getting into the swing of things as baseball season opens for the Padres.


No Winter Paradise

San Diego has never been considered a winter playground , not like Florida, Arizona and Hawaii. However, the county’s lodging industry suffered a downturn in year-over-year monthly occupancy rates due to unseasonably heavy rains, which plagued the hotel industry from late fall through December, January and February.

The numbers picked up in March, though, according to a preliminary report from Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research, which independently tracks the nation’s top 25 tourism destinations.

For a 28-day stretch ending March 26, the surveyor reported room occupancy at San Diego’s inns was up 4.8 percent to 78.5 percent compared with the same period in 2004.

The rate placed San Diego seventh, behind New York City in sixth with 85 percent, Orlando, Fla., with 85.6 percent, Miami with 87.1 percent, Phoenix in third with 87.5 percent, Honolulu with 87.7 percent and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., topping the list with 88.1 percent.

Deborah Hickman, the general manager at the Holiday Inn Mission Valley, said high school soccer competitions that brought teams to San Diego resulted in high occupancy rates during the Easter weekend and the week before.

“I’ve been here since the beginning of December,” Hickman said. “I’m from the Midwest, and you can’t tell me it never rains in Southern California.”

Hickman declined to cite numbers, but said that occupancy at the hotel throughout spring break was “similar” to the same period last year, the revenue from the rooms that were let increased.


Hotel Revenue Up

According to the Smith Travel Research, the county’s hoteliers took in an average of $93.16 from room rentals during the 28 days ending March 26, up 9 percent from the same period in 2004.

The average daily rate, or what hotels were asking for rooms, was $118.74.


New York City had the highest average daily room rate, $184.78, and the highest average amount of revenue, $156.99, from the number of available rooms.

Honolulu hoteliers took in $120.67, on average, from the available rooms, while the average room rate itself stood at $137.55.

For the country as a whole, Smith Travel Research reported that room occupancy was 64.5 percent, up 1.4 percent during the recent 28-day period, compared with the same time the year before. The average daily room rate was $92.57, up 5.5 percent, while the room revenue rose 7.1 percent to $59.72.


A Mixed Bag

But some tourism-related firms, such as those that rent aquatic gear, saw their business take a dive last month.

Izzy Tihanyi, a co-owner of Surf Diva in La Jolla, said ocean water pollution, brought by runoff from the rains, forced her to cancel some surfing classes.

“I had to cancel an entire tennis team’s surfing lesson due to the water quality,” Tihanyi said. “It was a beautiful, sunny day, but it had rained the night before.” She adhered to a general advisory to stay out of the ocean for 72 hours following the rain.

Rescheduling the $1,200 piece of business wasn’t possible. The tennis players who wanted to rent surfboards and test their skill on the waves as a cross-training exercise were in town from Indiana for only a brief period during spring break, Tihanyi said.

John Metzger, who owns OEX, which rents kayaks and scuba equipment in La Jolla, said his business also was off during much of March.

“People don’t want to go to the beach when it’s raining,” he said.

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