Hotels Still See a Downside to Comic-Con

Economy UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Hotels Still See a Downside to Comic-Con

Yes, Comic-Con packs local hotels. But it’s packing them at a time they’d be packed anyway.

There’s no denying San Diego banks on the business and publicity it gets from Comic-Con.

It just might benefit more if Comic-Con wasn’t in July, a month when most hotels are already packed.

That’s an argument some hoteliers have quietly raised over the years and one that may have loomed in behind-the-scenes negotiations between Comic-Con and hoteliers, some of whom resisted promising discounted rooms to convention attendees.

Carl Winston, director of San Diego State’s hospitality program, has heard the conversations play out.

“It’s considered just to be a great piece of business by the hospitality industry in town – but there is a but,” Winston said. “Ideally, something of this size and scope would come in an off-peak time of year but it comes at as peak a time as you can get in San Diego.”

Winston and other local experts say July’s long been the region’s primetime for vacationers.

The Tourism Authority’s 2014 annual visitor analysis documented a clear spike in overnight visitors in July.

Overnight Visitor Estimates for San Diego County in 2014

And this look at hotel occupancy rates in San Diego County during Comic-Con in recent years, and occupancy on the same days the following week, shows Comic-Con isn’t moving the needle much on that front. Occupancies are already high in July.

Hotel Occupancy Rates During and After Comic-Con

Anybody who’s tried to book a room for Comic-Con knows hotels do charge steeper rates during the convention, though.

Here’s a comparison of average daily rates during last year’s Comic-Con, and for the week after:

Average Daily Rates During and After Comic-Con in 2014

Data from Smith Travel Research, the hospitality industry’s leading numbers cruncher, shows average room rates were 33 percent to 44 percent higher during Comic-Con than during the following week.

Moving Comic-Con to a time with less demand might help push down hotel prices that surge during the convention.

But Comic-Con isn’t interested in switching things up.

Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said many out-of-town fans mark their calendars for the annual summer trek to San Diego.

Another date might be less convenient for Comic-Con attendees or conflict with other conventions, particularly given the proliferation of similar events, he said.

Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi, who recently helped corral local hotels to reach agreements with Comic-Con, said the idea of holding Comic-Con another time of year is a nonstarter, even if some hoteliers have repeatedly asked about it.

“While it would be great if it was in December or between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it doesn’t work for the show. It doesn’t work for the attendees,” Terzi said. “It still is very valuable to San Diego.”

Mike Staples, president of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association, acknowledged past board discussions about Comic-Con dates but said they’re not coming up anymore.

Ultimately, hoteliers recognize just having Comic-Con is a win and more visitors may come because it’s in the summertime, he said.

(Little concessions do help build goodwill. This year, Staples said hoteliers appreciated Comic-Con’s willingness to host its event just after the July 4th weekend, when thousands of holiday travelers head home at the same time.)

“Every single hotelier, every single convention salesperson, everybody in the San Diego Tourism Authority, everybody in City Hall, we have a love affair with Comic-Con and we want to maintain that relationship,” Staples said.

After all, San Diego gets oodles of positive news coverage during Comic-Con that Terzi and others say likely draws tourists to the region other times of the year.

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