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San Diego tourism is making a big comeback since the pandemic

“We're the number two industry here in San Diego. There's a lot that rides on visitors that come to San Diego,” said The San Diego Tourism Authority.

SAN DIEGO — There's a reason San Diego is America’s Finest City.

There may not be much sun so far this year, but there are still beaches, the San Diego Zoom, resorts, and Balboa Park.

The San Diego Tourism Authority says it is seeing pre-pandemic levels, with a surge in leisure travel, from couples on quick getaways to international visitors from as far away as Germany and Japan.

“I love the ocean and the breeze. And I just like everything, all the stores are just cool. And you get to spend time with your family and friends,” said Nadya Walton, age 9, Arizona.

The beaches and boardwalks, sports, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and SeaWorld are some of the favorite attractions in San Diego.

Behind the military industry, tourism is a big business in San Diego.

“We're the number two industry here in San Diego. There's a lot that rides on visitors that come to San Diego,” said Julie Coker, The San Diego Tourism Authority President and CEO.

She says visitors from all over the nation and world are arriving by plane and car.

“Last year, we welcomed 28.8 million visitors to our destination, and they spent over $13 billion in our destination,” said Coker.

Tourism is a competitive market. On Tuesday, the city council approved the SDTA’s $50.5 million, which is the agency’s largest budget on record.

“It's important for us to continue to keep investing in our hotels and keep promoting and marketing our hotels in the country and also internationally,” said Coker.

The SDTA reports last year, San Diego was fourth in the nation for hotel occupancy which generated $1 billion in state and local transient occupancy, sales, and property taxes.

The Hospitality and Leisure industry also saw the largest job growth. Coker says one in eight San Diegans work in the tourism industry which amounts to 200,000 workers. The U.S. Department of Labor reports from December 2021 to May 2023, there are about 15,000 more workers and pay is also up throughout the industries with an average wage of $32 per hour.

“One of the most exciting things for this year is finally we are fully staffed. In fact, we have even more staff than we did pre-pandemic,” said Lydia Bartell, Bartell Hotels V.P.

Bartell Hotels operates eight hotels in San Diego including The Dana on Mission Bay. She says with more staff, guests should expect more experiences during their stay.

“Think of more live music, more roasting marshmallows, more activities on the water, more small moments of surprise and delight, where you can meet together with the people you came with,” said Bartell.

This is an opportunity for families to create more memories in America’s Finest City.

“This is stuff you remember forever. This is what life is about. San Diego is just it's awesome,” said Steve Leventhal, Colorado.

The Tourism Marketing District says hotel room demand in San Diego County is expected to reach 17.5 million in 2023, a 500,000 increase over 2022. The average daily rate and hotel room revenues surpassed their pre-pandemic peaks in 2022, while hotel room supply is expected to be fully back in 2023, and hotel room demand and occupancy are expected to match their 2019 levels in 2024.

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