By Joe Terzi and Phil Blair
The year was 1888. The eager crowds that gathered along a picturesque stretch of coastline for the opening of the Hotel del Coronado must have been excited at the time, but they could never have imagined what was in store for our region.
Not long after the opening of the now historic Hotel del, other iconic attractions followed: the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park with its many celebrated institutions, SeaWorld, the USS Midway Museum and that little town built of bricks known as Legoland. Looking back at our region’s history, it’s no surprise that San Diego has grown to become one of the most popular visitor destinations in North America.
Recognizing the vast benefits of tourism, business and civic leaders have long worked together to shepherd its growth through the addition of key infrastructure, such as the bayside Convention Center, and a research-based, global marketing strategy that now reaches five of the world’s seven continents.
Today, tourism has become the region’s second largest traded economy, pumping billions of dollars into our county’s economy each year, while employing one in every eight San Diegans.
But two ballot measures — C and D — would inflict great harm on our tourism economy and the nearly 200,000 San Diegans whose livelihoods depend on it.
The measures — both devised behind closed doors without public input — would limit our ability to market San Diego and attract visitors, while preventing the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, which is vitally needed to retain existing conventions that have outgrown the center, like Comic-Con, and to attract newer and larger ones.
Measure C would raise the hotel tax from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent, making it one of the highest in the nation and placing San Diego at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to other U.S. destinations. It would also slash funds for tourism marketing. The proceeds of the tax increase would not only be used to build Dean Spanos — the owner of the San Diego Chargers — a new rent-free stadium, it would also fund convention space away from the existing center that our clients say would be useless to them.
Measure D is also a back-room stadium deal that would hurt tourism. Like Measure C, it would raise the hotel tax and restrict our ability to market San Diego and attract visitors. It’s a convoluted measure that contains an unusual poison pill that will create financial risk for the city.
Tourism has helped San Diego grow into the iconic city it is today, a city that is proud to welcome visitors from around the world.
San Diego deserves a better plan, not a false Hail Mary. Both measures C and D fall well short of the goal line.
—Joe Terzi is president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. Phil Blair is owner and executive officer of Manpower San Diego and former chair of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation.