Cruise ships
Cruise ships at the Port of San Diego. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Port

San Diego has welcomed an estimated 30.5 million visitors who collectively stayed longer in the region and contributed a record $14.28 billion in direct spending locally.

The sum represented a $1 billion increase in 2023 as compared to the previous fiscal year.

The San Diego Tourism Authority announced the numbers ahead of its 69th annual meeting held at SeaWorld San Diego Thursday with nearly 600 local tourism and hospitality leaders, community stakeholders and elected officials in attendance.

Tourism officials also revealed new data about economic impacts and visitor attractions, as well as new international rankings of the region’s tourism industry.

Local hotels also achieved higher occupancy rates countywide at an average of 73.7%, an increase of 5% year-over-year. The hotel stays helped generate more than $418 million in transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue for local municipalities.

Julie Coker, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, said the data demonstrated that the local tourism industry “is a powerhouse for our economy,” while reaching “new heights that will have a lasting, positive impact for years to come.”

The total economic impact generated by tourism reached $23.48 billion and the industry supported more than 214,000 direct and indirect jobs.

San Diego’s reputation as a premier destination for travelers, conventions and events also was boosted this year by more national recognition.

In Condé Nast Traveler’s annual Reader’s Choice Awards, San Diego was ranked as the second “Best Big City in the U.S.” – surpassing cities such as Honolulu, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

The Wall Street Journal recognized San Diego’s Convention Center as the fourth best in the country and a top choice because of the city and its surroundings.

At the event, Coker and Visit California President and CEO Caroline Beteta discussed the opportunities and challenges ahead for San Diego’s and California’s tourism industry in the next year. They also covered upcoming industry initiatives.

Those include a focus on evolution of the statewide brand as “The Ultimate Playground,” continued post-pandemic recovery, attraction of new and returning international visitors and integrating sustainability objectives into tourism plans.

“As we look ahead to 2024, San Diego’s accomplishments from 2023 are instrumental in California’s overall tourism success and help pave the way for an even brighter future,” Beteta said.