DEL MAR, Calif. (KGTV) — Attendance at the San Diego County Fair is down this year, compared to before the pandemic. But Fair officials say they intentionally capped attendance to focus on giving everyone a more positive experience.
"We're not focusing on those comparisons to 2019 because it's a different time in society. It's a different time at the fair," says Fair COO Katie Mueller. "We're really focused on the people that do come. What's their experience like? Was it worthwhile and how can we improve it in the future?"
Mueller says the Fair averaged around 46,000 paid attendees per day, although some days had more than 70,000 total people on site. The Fair capped paid attendance at 50,000 per day.
"That was our goal," Mueller says. "Part of the purpose of that was to provide a better guest experience for people to be able to move around freely to be able to socially distance a little bit, and to not have to wait in those lines and that kind of thing. So I think we've accomplished that."
Mueller says exit surveys and feedback from people at the fair indicate the plan worked. While official number won't come out until the board meeting in August, the Fair says per-capita spending is up, and people were staying longer. Mueller noticed the parking lots didn't have the same kind of turnover in the evenings that they saw in past years.
But the lower attendance did have an impact on vendors, who say smaller crowds cut into their profit.
"We definitely felt the lack of attendance," says Kimber Wilkinson, the owner of Hooked On Fish Tacos. "It cuts into the bottom line a lot, especially when you're a single person trying to make a living off the fair, doing a few fairs in the state, lack of people definitely hurts the pocket book."
Wilkinson says inflation also made this year more difficult, as the cost of food, labor, and travel increased.
"It hurt me to raise the prices. I didn't like doing it. I was forced to. So I just passed on that very, that exact percentage to the customer, so we didn't gouge them."
Mueller says she understands, as the fair dealt with inflation as well. Higher prices may be one of the reasons per capita spending rose. But the fair also lowered prices on parking, and they allowed people to bring in coolers with food and non-alcoholic drinks.
She says the fair will analyze everything over the summer to decide how to proceed in 2023.