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Overseas Visitors Boost San Diego Tourism Sector

The tourism industry, long a mainstay of the San Diego economy and the local hotel sector, is forecast to continue growing in the coming years, according to the San Diego Tourism Authority — not exponentially, but steadily. Part of that growth will be supported by increasing overseas visitors.


Overseas visitors are discovering what residents of the United States and Mexico have long known about San Diego, according to the San Diego Tourism Authority's Joe Timko.

"San Diego is California’s beach city," Timko said. "It offers year-round nearly perfect weather, 70 miles of coastline, and diverse attractions and activities for all types of visitors."

The future of tourism in San Diego, and how it will impact the local hotel sector, will be discussed at the San Diego Tourism & Hospitality event Feb. 27.

Currently, the country that sends the largest number of visitors to San Diego (aside from Mexico) is the U.K., with 164,800 in 2017, the latest year for which data is available.

British travelers are known for their fondness for sunny destinations — Florida is exceedingly popular among U.K. visitors, for example — and while San Diego has sunshine, it has something Florida doesn't have as a destination. 

"Visitors can experience a two-nation vacation," Timko said. "With Tijuana just 17 miles from Downtown San Diego, they can easily cross the border and discover Tijuana, the resort towns of Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo, and Valle de Guadalupe, a Mexican wine and food destination."

After the U.K., China sent the most visitors in 2017 — 124,700 — followed by Germany at 96,000 and Australia at 70,400. Despite possible turbulence ahead for the world economy, those numbers are expected to grow.

Hotel Karlan San Diego

Overall, tourism was strong in the San Diego area in 2018. About 35.8 million visitors spent around $11.3B in greater San Diego last year, according to the SDTA, representing 2.3% growth in visitation and 4.7% growth in spending compared to 2017.

The SDTA predicts the number of visitors to San Diego will grow roughly 2% each year for the next five years, and their spending will grow 3.9% each year. Some of that growth will be supported by the relatively strong U.S. economy, with the rest by growing interest in San Diego among overseas visitors.

Considering that kind of growth, hotel investors are betting on the health of San Diego as a tourist destination. 

"We continue to see strong investor interest in hotels in San Diego, driven by solid economic growth and exceptional fundamentals," HREC principal Mike Armstrong said.

"San Diego hotels achieved occupancies of about 80% and average daily rates approaching $200 in 2018," Armstrong said.

Recently Armstrong represented the seller of the 174-room Hotel Karlan — A Doubletree by Hilton. 

The property was acquired by the locally based J Street Hospitality, which also owns a Courtyard by Marriott and a Residence Inn by Marriott in the Gaslamp Quarter, and Moxy Hotel by Marriott in Downtown San Diego.

Find out more about San Diego tourism at the San Diego Tourism & Hospitality event Feb. 27 at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter.