In many ways they lean on each other, support one another.
The same can be said for tourism and the military, or tourism and … you name the industry.
Rick Fultz sees it. He is senior vice president and chief business officer of Biocom California, an organization that advocates for and supports the life sciences industry. He is also an incoming board member with the San Diego Tourism Authority.
He noted that San Diego is frequently the host city for BIO, the world’s largest biotechnology convention. BIO can bring 20,000 delegates to a city. That benefits downtown hotels, Gaslamp Quarter restaurants and other tourist-hosting businesses.
Building Downtown’s Momentum
Plans to house biotechnology companies in a number of new buildings in downtown San Diego — including the former Horton Plaza mall and on U.S. Navy property near the waterfront — would add another dimension to such a gathering, he said. While venues such as the San Diego Convention Center could host large groups, private businesses could host smaller, more specialized sessions.
More life science companies downtown will generate room nights for downtown’s hotels, noted Julie Coker, president and CEO of the Tourism Authority.
Fultz credited Coker with the work she did to bring biotech business to Philadelphia. Coker served as head of the convention and visitors bureau in that city before taking a similar job in San Diego.
Once convention delegates have arrived, San Diego makes a powerful impression. Fultz recalled one evening at a BIO convention on the flight deck of the retired aircraft carrier USS Midway. He was among a couple thousand people, with fireworks going off. “That’s pretty hard to replicate,” he said.
In years past, tech companies such as Qualcomm Inc. have hosted local gatherings for customers (in 2005, the Fortune 500 chipmaker treated software developers to a concert with rock act Huey Lewis and the News in Balboa Park).
The links between other core San Diego industries and tourism are also strong. The military brings people to San Diego on business, and to celebrate life’s big events. Weekly graduations at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot bring in hundreds of family members from all over the United States. Those visitors stay at local hotels and seek out attractions such as the San Diego Zoo and Sea World. (Weekly graduations are once again open to families of new Marines.)
A Common Objective
The Tourism Authority isn’t operating alone. Several well-established organizations formed to support various aspects of the San Diego economy share goals and coordinate efforts.
The Tourism Authority works seamlessly with the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce to support economic growth in San Diego County.
The three organizations have been working together all through the pandemic, said Chamber President and CEO Jerry Sanders. Together with the University of San Diego and Deloitte, the three agencies have pursued a long-term economic recovery initiative called Back in Business.
The associations “work pretty well together,” said Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation.
Both Cafferty and Coker spoke of how the local groups work together to convince airlines to establish direct flights to San Diego — particularly international flights. Airlines are concerned about filling the front of their aircraft with good-paying business travelers, and the rear of their aircraft with tourists. San Diego’s representatives can sell both the strength of the region’s economic clusters, as well as the community’s desirability as a vacation destination.
Once the pandemic is over, there will be many opportunities to sell San Diego to visitors and would-be transplants, emphasizing the lifestyle that the region offers, said Coker.