San Diego tourism is bouncing back. Will Omicron derail it?

San Diego beaches draw moderate crowds.

San Diego’s appealing beaches and year-round moderate weather continues to a big draw for leisure travelers during the pandemic.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

As the summer season approached last year, San Diego’s hotels were in the grips of a massive downturn in business the likes of which they had never seen in any previous recession. Overall room night demand was down by as much as 66 percent, and 95 percent for group travel, which seemed to evaporate overnight.

In the nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, leisure travel has made a remarkable comeback, easily surpassing levels recorded in 2019, according to Tourism Economics, but that isn’t the case for business, government and meetings -related travel, which accounts for 40 percent of the region’s overall hotel business.

Even without the Omicron variant, those sectors aren’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels for some time, the Tourism Authority says. To a degree, San Diego has been the beneficiary of a slowdown in travel to more distant, overseas destinations that’s likely to persist given the rise of Omicron.

“On the leisure side, people are not traveling to Europe right now and not as apt to go farther away so we’re so lucky,” said Kapich. “So if you look at California, Arizona and Nevada, that’s almost 50 million people, which is a large pool to pull from. We’re a beautiful place with lots of outdoor activities and are seen as a very safe community that’s been managing through the crisis very well. So we’re fortunate in that regard.”

Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa

Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa

(Courtesy of Evans Hotels)

San Diego-based Evans Hotels, which operates two resorts on Mission Bay, as well as the Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, has experienced a robust rebound, thanks to the desire of so many to leave behind their house-bound lives during the pandemic. That hasn’t been the case, though, with their normal business and group traveler guests, said Evans Hotels President Robert Gleason. The company’s annual revenue last year, he said, fell to less than half the level of 2019.

“We’ve shifted much of our focus to leisure travelers, including marketing the activities we provide at the hotels, like the torch lighting ceremony at the Catamaran, yoga on the terrace at the Lodge and Bahia, and scavenger hunts and music at the pool, which are now year-round,” Gleason said.

“Businesses who are planning travel for individuals or gatherings have been more cautious, so going into the fall, meetings and events were expected to return but that didn’t happen because of Delta and the summer surge, and we saw a fair number of cancellations for groups in the fall. Now we’re seeing the same thing for the first quarter and into the second quarter of next year.”

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