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San Diego Tourism Authority Leader Discusses His Agency’s Role In Filling Hotel Rooms

With a Mediterranean climate, white sandy beaches and a hip Downtown, San Diego has been a domestic and West Coast drive-to tourist destination for years. Increasing international travel, however, has been a difficult task. Up until four years ago there were limited international nonstop flights from Canada and Mexico to San Diego International Airport, says San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi, who was among local tourism and hospitality experts who presented today at our San Diego Hospitality Development Takeoff event.

Joe Terzi is CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority.

That’s when the tourism authority, in partnership with the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, Economic Development Corp and World Trade Center, began focusing efforts on bringing international carriers into SAN, initially resulting in British Airways offering daily nonstop service from London Heathrow Airport and Japan Airlines from Tokyo.

“A key objective of ours is to increase international travel, so we are taking an active role in promoting nonstop international flights to San Diego,” he says. This is a major opportunity to not only increase international tourism, but also create greater meeting capacity for the convention center and grow the corporate base, he says. 


Pictured above is a British Airways jet approaching San Diego International Airport's Lindbergh Field.

Over this past year Germany’s Condor Airlines announced it will begin service from Frankfurt two to three times weekly, May to October in 2017, and Edelweiss will begin service from Zurich twice weekly during those months in 2017. Air Canada Rouge offers daily seasonal service from Vancouver and Toronto, June through mid-October, and Canada’s WestJet also offers seasonal service mid-June to mid-October, three times weekly from Vancouver, with plans to add seasonal service from Calgary five times weekly.

Mexico’s Volaris offers flights from Guadalajara and Mexico City, with variable frequency, to Tijuana International Airport’s new Cross Border Terminal. Joe tells us negotiations are underway with three Chinese airlines to begin service to SAN.

The agency’s website is also a resource for information on local car rentals, all forms of public transportation throughout the region, SAN and TIJ’s CBX terminal, shuttle and taxi services, and ferry and water taxi service to Coronado

From a sales and marketing standpoint, his agency is focused on growing an international market. “We haven’t been as visible as our competition—LA and San Francisco,” he says, “so we’re focusing on extending the San Diego brand into international markets.” As part of the branding process, the agency recently worked with National Geographic to produce a one-hour documentary on San Diego. The agency also publishes a glossy, four-color visitors guide in the spring and fall, produced by San Diego magazine. His agency also works with international travel agencies to promote SD as a destination, and does targeted marketing in key US markets, like New York and Dallas.


Joe also weighed in on the two ballot measures that would raise the hotel occupancy tax to expand the convention center, including the Chargers’ Convadium proposal and attorney Cory Briggs’ Citizen's Plan proposal for funding the convention center expansion. “We do want to keep the Chargers in San Diego, but we don’t support either proposal,” he says. “Customers who use our convention center have told us they won’t use it if it isn’t contiguous with the existing facility.”

Joe says a 4% hotel tax hike is not justified for the limited amount of additional business and tax revenue the stadium would generate. Unlike the Padres, who play 81 regular-season home games each season, the Chargers play just eight home games.

He says the agency does not support the ballot initiative authored by Briggs either. Briggs sued everyone involved in the city’s proposal to raise the hotel tax to fund a contiguous expansion of the existing convention center on the waterfront, including the city, San Diego Unified Port Authority and Coastal Commission, Joe says. Briggs won the case, contending levy of a “specific tax” requires a public vote in California. This case is under appeal, but in the meantime, the convention center project is in limbo.

Pictured above is the city's existing 520k SF meeting facility.


Joe says the SD Convention Center is the 22nd-largest facility nationally, but the proposed addition would take it from 520k SF to 750k SF, putting SD’s meeting facility in the top 10 or 12 convention centers in the US. This would have a significant impact on the city’s hotels, with meeting contracts increasing hotel night stays from 1.1 million annually to 1.3 million to 1.4 million. Pictured is a rendering of the SD Tourism Authority's proposed expansion concept on the waterfront, which would provide additional space contiguous with the existing facility and outdoor spaces for social gathering. 

“An expanded convention center would be a huge benefit to San Diego, if voters make the right decision,” he says, noting the tourism industry is a major economic driver in SD—the third-largest source of income for the city, generating $200M annually in hotel taxes; and the region’s second-largest employer.