Comic-Con nudges dollars north


Convention spreads wealth across county

Selling out to more than 126,000 participants two months before its opening today, Comic-Con is a definite boon to tourism in downtown San Diego. And although there are few numbers to support anecdotal claims, hoteliers and restaurant owners in La Jolla, Del Mar and other northern communities said their businesses are also benefitting from the four-day, comic-inspired convention.

Launched in 1970 as a one-day “mini” convention held in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego with 300 people in attendance, Comic-Con is now one of the premier comic-themed assemblages in the country. It has maxed out space at the San Diego Convention Center the last couple of years, and passes for the 2009 event sold out in record time.

With a focus on comic art, film and science fiction, the conference has evolved into a showcase for classic and pop culture television shows, movies, books and literature, offering fans a chance to meet actors, creators and characters while celebrating their genre of choice.

David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations for Comic-Con International, agreed: “One of the things we have always thought is that comic books and pop culture are as viable a form of entertainment as any other. What seemed to have happened over the years is other people seem to have noticed that and started attending the show.”

Spreading out

As Comic-Con continued its steady growth - sort of like The Blob - the impact on local businesses also increased.

“We expect attendees to spend over $16 million,” Johnson said, money that will be shelled out for everything from food and hotels to transportation, souvenirs and entertainment.

Aside from ticket and merchandise sales at the convention itself, one of the biggest expenditures for comic fans is lodging.

More than 36 hotels, most of them located downtown, set aside rooms specifically for Comic-Con attendees. But given that this event results in the four highest days of hotel occupancy throughout the county for the entire year, many people are forced to find lodging elsewhere.

Seeing ‘the characters’

“There is absolutely no question that every year Comic-Con has an impact on rooms here in this market,” said Terry Underwood, general manager of the Grande Colonial La Jolla. “We see not only an increase in demand many weeks out for the dates Comic-Con is in town, but we also see the characters in the hotels.”

That compression also spills over into northern San Diego County, said Robert Rauch, chairman of San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“There are some years that it’s more impactful than others,” Rauch said. “I would generally say that number one, Comic-Con impacts Mission Valley, then the UTC area, then the village of La Jolla and then Carmel Valley and Del Mar. It has a broad reach.”

Expanding reach

It’s not just hotels that are benefiting from Comic-Com dollars. Fans gathering after convention hours, visitors extending stays to enjoy the Southern California amenities and corporate events are just some of the expenditures with a “green” impact.

George Hauer, of George’s at the Cove, said that while impact is minimal because of La Jolla’s distance from downtown, conventiongoers do make their way north.

“We do have one party scheduled,” Hauer said.

The Roddenberry Dive Team, founded by Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, is hosting a dive and educational gathering at La Jolla Shores today as part of its lineup of Comic-Con events. Open to divers and nondivers, the sunrise get-together will feature five graduate students from Scripps Institution of Oceanography talking about Scripps canyon and the importance of the ocean, followed by a dive.

Exploring new worlds

Roddenberry likened exploration of the ocean to “Star Trek’s” mission to “explore strange new worlds.”

In selecting La Jolla as the dive site for this meeting, Roddenberry, who lives in San Diego, said he was drawn to the site for several reasons. “I’ve heard people rave about it for years, the diversity and the different kind of dives you can do. And La Jolla itself is just beautiful.”

Conventioneers receive information on many of San Diego’s attractions and outlying communities, and businesses in northern destinations stand to gain from that advertising.

Although the Del Mar races and Surf Cup soccer tournament, which coincide with Comic-Com, will fill up hotels in the Del Mar area, the overflow from downtown has to go somewhere, and that means an opportunity for hoteliers hit by the economic downturn.

“I think this is a hugely important convention,” said Egon Kafka of the La Jolla Village Lodge. “Smart people who are in the know often choose to stay and bring their families to La Jolla because La Jolla is simply the nicest part of town. Even if you take the bus, it’s only half an hour and a dollar or two.”