It turns out getting Comic-Con to stay in town for 2017 and 2018 is more about discounted hotel rooms than the size of San Diego’s Convention Center.

Comic-Con and the Convention Center Corp. both told Voice of San Diego that some hoteliers’ unwillingness to sign off on agreements to discount blocks of hotel rooms for attendees is what’s keeping the massive comic and entertainment convention from committing to San Diego.

Comic-Con’s learned to live without the promised Convention Center expansion for now, instead relying on event spaces at downtown hotels to address its needs outside the facility.

But it needs rooms at a reduced price for the tens of thousands of visitors the event brings to the region — even though San Diego’s already flush with tourists in the summer months.

There are not enough rooms discounted and attendees are not able to get into the room block,” said Steven Johnson, spokesman for the Convention Center. “That’s why Comic-Con isn’t booked right now.”

Getting into a room block can be the difference between paying $299 per night and $499 per night for the same room, Johnson said, though specific discounts vary among hotels.

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Those savings may not be a major issue for surgeons attending a medical conference, but Comic-Con attracts more than 130,000 attendees from a broad range of income levels who feel the pinch.

Last year, hotels committed 56,600 discounted hotel room nights, but Comic-Con could easily fill twice that.

When business is slow, offering large room blocks is a no-brainer for hotels. But when large events like Comic-Con send the county’s hotel occupancy rates sky-high, agreeing to a discount means turning away higher profits.

“They know they are going to sell out because there is such a demand,” Johnson said. “(Hotel managers are) not worried about 2020 right now … It’s just common sense for them, and I totally understand.”

But focusing on short-term profits could cost the city Comic-Con. Both the Convention Center and Comic-Con hope the foot-dragging hotels offer up at least what’s been provided in the past.

It’s that reluctance that’s kept Comic-Con from announcing it’ll stay here, Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said in a statement.

“We’re negotiating with select hotels to keep room block and discounted rates and that seems to be holding things up,” Glanzer said.

Glanzer didn’t respond to questions about which hotels have been unwilling to meet Comic-Con’s demands.

Hotels nearest to the Convention Center insist they aren’t the ones jeopardizing talks.

“For the last five years, we have given them a block of almost 90 percent of our entire number of hotel rooms, along with all our meeting space and at rates less than $300,” said John Schafer, general manager of the 1,625-room Manchester Grand Hyatt. “We also remain committed to working with them in the future to keep them in San Diego.”

Tuni Kyi, general manager of the Marriott Marquis & Marina, and Donovan Henson, regional senior director of sales for Hilton Worldwide, also said they’re not to blame.

“To my knowledge there is no ‘headquarter hotel’ offering a higher percentage of its room inventory to Comic-Con’s official room block than Hilton San Diego Bayfront and we were the amongst the first hotels to agree to Comic-Con’s room block increase request in prior years’ contracts discussions,” Henson said.

Hotels further from downtown that don’t benefit as often from convention-goers may have less incentive to sacrifice short-term profits.

But three Mission Valley hotels also said they have tried to accommodate Comic-Con.

Managers at the Courtyard Marriott, Crowne Plaza and Handlery Hotel all said they’ve submitted contracts to Comic-Con that reflect the same prices and spaces they’re offering in 2016, which is what Comic-Con reportedly requested of them.

Elaine Shea, director of sales and marketing at Crowne Plaza, said her hotel is offering 335 of its 416 rooms for Comic-Con but that the convention hasn’t signed the agreement yet.

“We’re giving our maximum block that we give to any convention,” Shea said.

A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office would only say that it was typical for the mayor to be involved in major tourism and economic development efforts.

San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi, who previously said Comic-Con was likely commit to San Diego by the end of January, has hinted in the past that hotels were the primary stalling point.

“Comic-Con has expressed concern over the last several years that it’s getting very expensive for their attendees to come to San Diego and while they recognize that they’re here at a premium time of year, they feel they’re being taken advantage of to a degree,” he told U-T San Diego in November.

Terzi did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

The 2012 City Council decision to have Terzi’s team take over long-term Convention Center event bookings put the future of Comic-Con and other large events in the hands of the Tourism Authority.

The move was instantly controversial because it occurred just before city officials sought hotelier approval for the now-defunct hotel tax that was supposed to fund the $520 million waterfront expansion project. The change also nearly cost the Convention Center some top leaders, including CEO Carol Wallace, who prepared to leave at the time

Now, the effectiveness of the current booking system may soon get an independent review at the urging of the County Grand Jury. The Convention Center board is seeking consultants for the job.

Though Wallace ultimately stayed at the Convention Center, she’s still not pleased with situation.

“I have not supported the transfer out of sales and marketing since the very beginning,” Wallace told the Convention Center board June 17. “I have concern about the performance of the SD Tourism Authority over the three years that they’ve had the contract. I think the board is looking at this.”

Update: This story has been updated to remove a quote from Convention Center spokesman Steven Johnson, who said after the story was published that he had been referring to a situation in 2010, not current Comic-Con negotiations.

    This article relates to: Economy, Must Reads, Tourism Economy

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at or 619.550.5669.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    It's too bad that the pitiful civic leaders of this city can't see past tourism as a viable economic direction for this city.  So right now big tourism is basically black mailing the city into getting what it is they want and it is the same thing that the owner of the Chargers wants.  That is they want the city to spend billions of dollars on a tourism infrastructure to promote their own selfish needs while taking the tax payers dollars which are needed for public infrastructure and improvements.  Now they are fighting among themselves for this control.   All they seem to want is to thrive off of low paid tourist jobs that can't produce enough income for a huge portion of the population who must now depend on public services for their basic needs.  Creating even a bigger burden for the taxpayers of this city and state. Look at Greece ... it can't pay it's bills and is on the verge of a major default which will affect the entire European continent all because their only industry is tourism.  The honest people of this city must realize this mess and try to elect responsible people who can understand the needs of the people.  Instead we elect the typical idiot ass-kissers who only want to take whatever is not nailed down and then some.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    The Convention Center is a subsidized entity that takes up a portion of the city budget.  Discounting rates to Comic-con and others increases the likelihood of increased subsidies.  Discounting hotel rates eats into the  Tourist Occupancy Tax that supplements the city budget, so the city's general fund takes a hit on what it would normally get, especially during the busy summer season.  I don't think the restaurants and bars in town discount anything, so the sales tax is collected, but a lot of that ends up in Sacramento to be disbursed in various ways.  Seems to me we are trading what we would normally get in TOT for a portion of sales tax.  

    And isn't it odd that the city (big government) is telling private industry what to do?  And isn't government "interference" with the private sector a major rallying cry of the Republican party, both local and national?  And what party is the mayor in again?

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    @Robert Cohen It's nothing but greed and corruption for the bottom feeders who continue to offer nothing new but the same old crap and slogans.  Tourism here is the low lying fruit that embraces low wages and no real economic growth,  But the locals here are on it like flies on sh*t.  What else is new?  It's not big government telling private business what to do.  It is both local government and the big takers coming together over things like campaign contributions and the old boy network of crooks and thieves.  An it has been going on forever in San Diego because the average voters appear to be idiots or just to apathetic to care.

    Myron Shelley
    Myron Shelley subscribermember

    @Robert Cohen Isn't it all quite simple to understand?  The Convention Center people think the only thing that's important is to fill the building and, to that end, they will give away whatever it takes because they can always go to the municipalities and beg for money.  The hotels, on the other hand, know what their costs are and how much revenue they must generate to keep the doors open.  If large conventions aren't here during high season, perhaps visitors who can afford non-discounted rooms will fill the gap..

    profundis subscriber

    @Myron Shelley

    I think you have it exactly backwards.  Why do you believe the Convention Center wants to fill the building for free, instead of charging reasonable, competitive rates which would allow adequate maintenance of our public assets?  It is the hoteliers who profit from Convention Center giveaways, because that allows them to have a constant stream of hotel guests with more money available to pay higher room rates.  This is why hotels want to control the Tourism Authority and disempower taxpayers' interests.  There is no reason to believe that the Convention center wants to lose money, or would do so if they had more power relative to downtown hotels.

    Convention budgets take into account the total cost of hotel rooms and convention center facility costs.  The convention center gains nothing by giving away space space that taxpayers have invested in.  On the other hand, this provides hotels with a captive customer base and permits them to charge higher prices, as more money is available for rooms.

    Also, the transient occupancy tax is abysmally low here, which also benefits hotels at the expense of taxpayers, not just by allowing hotels to charge higher rates, but also by reducing funds available for San Diego infrastructure and maintenance costs.  Essentially, the city subsidizes downtown hotels at every turn.

    Myron Shelley
    Myron Shelley subscribermember

    @profundis @Myron Shelley The CC does not want  to give anything  away for free; I never made such an allegation.  What the CC does is discount their rates because of competition, as they see it, from other facilities who are going after the same customers.  In the real world, businesses do not give away their products and/or services at prices that do not allow them to prosper.  The Convention Center was never presented to the public as being formed as a non-profit organization for the common good.  It is a business and should be run like one.  

    sandiegosteven subscribermember


    The context for my quote "Realizing talks led by the San Diego Tourism Authority were taking longer than desired, Johnson said, “We explained the situation we were having and sought help from the mayor.” gives an inaccurate characterization of what I said.  The request was to then Mayor Sanders to assist in leveraging his position to get the hotels to cooperate with our 2010 bid to renew Comic Con for 2013-2015. At that time, SDCCC handled all marketing and was lead in negotiating.  Mayor Faulconer campaigned on keeping Comic Con in SD and has taken a leadership position to do so on his own initiative, not because we asked or expressed concerns with the SDTA's effort in this latest round of negotiations.  Thanks.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Someone came up with the great idea to bypass the greedy San Diego Hoteliers by docking  Luxury Cruise Ships in the North Embarcadero to create temporary Cabin Hotel State Rooms for Comic Con. Just like what happened in San Francisco for the 4 night Salesforce convention last April 2015,  using the Celebrity Infinity cruise ship to add Hotel rooms.

    Comic Con has been saying for years that excessive Hotel Room costs, not necessarily a Convention Center Expansion,  was their main concern with keeping Comic Con in San Diego. 

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    @La Playa Heritage Perhaps they should try Anaheim or LA.  Do you think that they are less greedy there?  Good luck with that.  Is it actually greedy to ask for market value for a hotel room during a peak tourist season?  In general, I think that hotel costs everywhere are totally outrageous which is why I don't travel often.  That doesn't necessarily mean that the hotel owners are greedy.  If others are willing to pay high prices; oh well.  

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @La Playa Heritage What's stopping Comic-Con from arranging a "Cruise Ship" hotel?  I'm sure the hotels will do their worst to kill that from happening here, but are there any specifics?

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    If I am reading this correctly, one of the primary justifications of the Convention Center expansion (that it was needed to accommodate and retain Comic-Con) was completely bogus.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @David Crossley @Chris Brewster Comic-Con is the one convention that doesn't need a contiguous center because the attendees like to show off their costumes.  Just don't mess with any deaf drivers, another San Diego police blunder and cover up.

    I can't believe anyone is still mentioning the ridiculous "Convadium" idea.