Balboa Park. File photo

A San Diego City Council committee Thursday tentatively approved a $3 million boost to tourism promotion in order to attract more travelers from China, recoup lost business from Los Angeles and give more publicity to Balboa Park.

If approved by the full City Council, the funds would be split evenly among the three initiatives, said Brian Hughes, executive director of the city’s Tourism Marketing District.

Joe Terzi, CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, said they have been making overtures to Chinese airlines for the last few years about flying nonstop to San Diego from the capital of Beijing and/or sprawling southern city Guangzhou.

There are 124 nonstop flights a week between China and California, but none take off or land in San Diego.

Entry into the huge Chinese market “could be very significant” for San Diego tourism, Terzi told members of the council’s Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. Right now, San Diego is generally just a day trip for Chinese tourists visiting Los Angeles, he said.

“Our investment in China is to get recognition in the community, but also to demonstrate to the airlines that San Diego is a serious place for them to take a look at, to come and fly in,” Terzi said. He estimated that nonstop service to China could begin as soon as next year, or the year after.

Japan Airlines offers the only daily nonstop between San Diego and Asia with its Tokyo route.

The funding would also allow San Diego to boost advertising in Los Angeles. Hughes said that over the last seven years, the annual number of tourists from the massive northern neighbor has dropped by around 400,000.

“That’s alarming, and I think a lot of it is the traffic,” committee Chairwoman Lorie Zapf said, in reference to congestion along Interstate 5.

Hughes said competition from other cities is also a factor. An extra $1 million would fund three or four weeks of ads in the L.A. market, he said.

For Balboa Park, extra money would be spent on two SDTA staffers who would work to raise its visibility, which could result in tourists spending an extra day or two in San Diego.

The committee voted unanimously to support the TMD’s planned expenditure of $40 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The $3 million would be shifted from a nearly $30 million contingency fund designed to protect the city against litigation over how tourism promotions are funded. The case appears to be winding down, potentially allowing the funds to be put to other use, tourism and council members said.

Separately, Terzi informed the committee members that the SDTA expected to finish this fiscal year having booked more than 900,000 hotel room nights for future conventioneers. It was questionable whether the sales team could top the 1 million room night level achieved in each of the past two years, he said.

The SDTA, which books the San Diego Convention Center for events at least 18 months out, has an annual goal of selling 860,000 future room nights.

–City News Service

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