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Tourism improvement numbers look good

DEL MAR — After nearly four years, Del Mar’s Tourism Business Improvement District seems to be fulfilling its goal to increase occupancy in the city’s six hotels, according to a required update presented at the May 5 meeting.

Since the district was approved in late 2010, occupancy has increased about 5.7 percent annually, with the average daily rate up by 20.5 percent.

“Those are very strong numbers,” said John Lambeth, of Civitas Advisors, who helped develop the Del Mar program.

During the past three years the district focused on improving the visibility of Del Mar as a destination rather than a pass-through entity, Lambeth said.

Last year the main goal was to increase awareness of the city as a brand. “Obviously it already has a very strong brand, but it was something we wanted to increase with the funds raised through the Tourism Improvement District,” he said.

There was a major effort to improve internet traffic and drive people to the website to bring more overnight guests, which result in increases in transient occupancy and sales taxes for the city.

TOT funds were approximately $1.8 million in fiscal year 2011-2012, shortly after the TBID started. Last year they increased to about $1.95 million and are projected to be $2.1 million for the current fiscal year.

Lambeth said hotels are reporting about a 12.6 percent increase in revenue.

The district has also provided funding to the Del Mar Village Association for assistance at the visitor center, the Winter Wonderland program and streetscape improvements such as new pedestrian directory signs, bike racks, historic building plaques, benches and recycling cans.

The TBID had a marketing budget of about $240,000 last year. Some of the money was used for advertising and public relations firms to launch the website and help with social media efforts.

“It seems pretty evident that the TBID is doing a pretty good job – 12.6 percent over last year,” Noel Warner of Skiver Advertising said. “I think that … tells me that we’re doing something right.

“The TBID hired us to let the world know what the TBID is doing, so it’s our job to make sure that we’re talking about all the great things that are going on within Del Mar,” he added.

He said in less than four months there were 32 million impressions and 19,000 visitors to the Dream Del Mar website.

“Those are some really compelling numbers,” Warner said. Of the 19,000 visitors, there were 1,000 booking inquiries, “which shows there’s really a lot of interest in staying in Del Mar.”

Zenzi Communications is handling the social media efforts, with a focus on Facebook and Pinterest. Zenzi also developed a “Seaside Wellness” guide to attract fitness and yoga enthusiasts “to book a stay in Del Mar to rejuvenate, rest and re-energize at TBID hotels.”

Lambeth said goals for the upcoming year include tracking actual bookings through each of the hotels and revising the current campaigns based on opportunities that were successful.

He said glitches with the booking engine didn’t allow tracking in the past.

“This has been a work in progress,” he said. “We’re in a far different place than we were last year. We hope to make as much progress over the next year as we’ve made over the last.”

Lambeth said some numbers are hard to track. The market is getting better so one would expect the numbers to go up, he said.

“But these are very significant increases and we think the (district) is responsible for some increment within that increase,” he added.

The TBID is funded by a 1 percent fee paid by hotel guests – a “very competitive rate” compared to other districts, Lambeth said. It was formed, as was required, with unanimous support from the city’s hoteliers and City Council. Oversight comes from a board of directors made up of hotel owners.

It will automatically expire in 2015. Hotel owners must repeat the multistep process to re-establish the district, but if approved it will be valid for 10 years.

“It took a while to get this started,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “I’m anxious to see what happens in the next year because now I think it’s fully operational and we’ll get a valid result in a year or so.”



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