The days of vehicles sporting bumper stickers with “Welcome to San Diego – Now Go Home” are long gone.
Tourism in San Diego is important business — and locals know it. Tourism is a vital part of San Diego’s economy and lifestyle, driving financial activity beyond traditional bounds.
A report released on the first day of summer by the San Diego Tourism Authority explains that in 2022, tourism generated more than $1 billion in tax revenues for municipalities across San Diego County — revenues used for everything from fire safety to infrastructure. Last year, those revenues also eased the tax burden of residents by an average of nearly $1,000 per household.
The report from the SDTA — the nonprofit that seeks to drive visitor demand to economically benefit the San Diego region by attracting travelers for leisure, meetings and conventions — is called “Unpacking the Hidden Power of Tourism: The Direct and Indirect Benefits of a $22 Billion Industry.”
The report said that tourism supports 214,000 jobs across dozens of industries in San Diego County, including more than 100,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry, and last year created $4.24 billion in demand for businesses not directly linked to tourism.
“Everyone asks how our industry is doing,” said Kerri Kapich, chief operating officer for SDTA. “San Diego has so many economic sectors, with tourism and the military the foundations of our regional economy, along with innovation, research and life sciences. When people want to know how our industry is doing, this report shows us that we have recovered very well from the pandemic.”
In 2022, the SDTA report said, $13.6 billion of direct visitor spending was generated by 28.8 million visitors to San Diego. That eclipsed the $11.6 billion spent in the pre-COVID year of 2019. Visitors last year spent more time on average in San Diego in 2022 than they did pre-pandemic, the report said.
Overnight visitors stayed an average of 4.2 nights in San Diego vs. 3.7 nights in 2019. The report noted that while that may not sound like much of a difference, it means that even though there were 6 million fewer visitors than three years ago, San Diego hotels still sold a total of 17 million room nights in 2022 – just shy of the 17.7 million room nights in 2019.
The report said that hotels enjoyed record revenues in 2022 amid higher nightly rates, bringing in $3.5 billion in 2022, compared to $3 billion in 2019 (a 17.6% increase)
“Our local tourism attractions, restaurants, sports, and arts provide more than just vibrant entertainment and lifelong memories,” said SDTA President and CEO Julie Coker. “San Diego’s $22 billion dollar tourism industry is a powerhouse of the regional economy, creator of good jobs, and direct contributor to investments that benefit the daily lives of San Diegans.”
The SDTA report explains that a bustling tourism season fuels the regional economy, supports good jobs and contributes to funding of essential services for the local community.
Significant tax revenues generated by the tourism industry provide immense community benefit for San Diegans. Last year, the regional tourism industry generated more than $1 billion in tax revenues across San Diego County, including $360 million in Transient Occupancy Tax. In the city of San Diego, the tourism industry in 2022 generated more than $259 million in TOT in addition to spurring sales tax revenue and other economic activity.
“Travel and tourism are central to the economic vitality of our city and to getting things done for San Diegans,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said. “This industry helps pay the bills at City Hall through the room night tax – money that goes directly toward helping pay for police, fire, parks and recreation and libraries, as well as supporting our world-class arts and culture amenities. In short, tourists help fund the very things that make San Diego a better place for everyone.”
Local visitor spending includes more than $3 billion spent on accommodations; $3 billion on full-service restaurants; $2 billion on local attractions, including amusement parks, museums, sports and concerts; $1.5 billion on retail; more than $1 billion on other food/drinking places and more than $1 billion on transportation.
Taking a deeper dive into the impact of tourism on the regional economy, the SDTA examined the industry’s indirect and induced effects, reporting that the combined indirect and induced impacts of tourism amount to $9.1 billion – 42% of tourism’s total influence on San Diego’s economy.
Kapich said sometimes overlooked is the indirect economic impact that tourism brings, including visitor spending on transportation, information services and financial services.
“It’s very much an ecosystem within the San Diego community,” she said.
Kapich also said that this year’s numbers are trending in the positive. Through May, San Diego hotels are in the top 10 of markets around the country. According to travel research company STR (formerly Smith Travel Research) and tourism market research company Destination Analysts, compared to last year during the same period of January through May, local hotel occupancy is up 2.7% and visitor spending has an uptick of 14% in 2023 compared to 2022.
San Diego Tourism Authority
PRESIDENT AND CEO: Julie Coker
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
BUSINESS: Nonprofit mutual benefit corporation with nearly 1,000 members promoting San Diego
BUDGET: $27M (generated through public sources [San Diego Tourism Marketing District] and grants as well as membership dues and other sources of income, such as events)
SOCIAL IMPACT: San Diego Tourism Authority’s has a Tourism Accelerator program that seeks to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the tourism industry.
NOTABLE: SDTA’s mission is to drive visitor demand to economically benefit the San Diego region with a vision of leading San Diego to become the most desirable destination.