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San Diego tourism on path to recovery

Posted at 4:20 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 22:50:50-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Molly and Scott Greene disembarked the Disney Wonder cruise ship Friday morning and stepped north along San Diego's Embarcadero.

A couple of $20 tickets later, they boarded a much smaller boat: The Maritime Museum of San Diego.

"We're happy to be here today spending the day in San Diego," said Molly.

"This is what life should be like, getting out and seeing everything."

But life took a much different turn two years ago, the coronavirus outbreak led to millions of canceled travel plans -- leisure, business, conventions, gone. Hotels -- doing the unthinkable --- closing as peak season started.

"They had padlocks on the doors. That's how bad it was," said Julie Coker, CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority.

"They weren't even able to open to visitors because they would lose more money if they opened their doors."

Nearly 100,000 local leisure and hospitality workers lost their jobs in March 2020, amid stay-at-home orders and zoom meetings.

Now, with vaccines released and coronavirus restrictions lifted, Americans are once again traveling, filling area hotels on weekends -- paying top dollar.

"Rates are much higher than they were even before," said Lydia Bartell, Vice President of Bartell Hotels, which owns and operates eight San Diego hotels.

"While this is good for hotels it also puts a lot of pressure on us, so we are excited to make vacations that are going to be the best vacations of our guests' lives."

But while leisure travel is back, business and conventions are not quite there. For instance, attendance at the convention center is at 50 to 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to the San Diego Convention Center Corp.

And international travelers - who spend more and stay longer - are lagging.

"We're definitely on the right path, and we have a positive message to tell," said Coker.

"I think we're moving in the right direction, which is important."

Coker added county hotels were at 84 percent capacity last week. Pre-pandemic this time of year, she says they would have been full.

Coker expects a full recovery in 2024 and noted the industry is hiring for a variety of positions. As it stands, jobs in leisure and hospitality are about 8 percent below pre-pandemic levels.