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La Jolla Visitor Center marks fifth anniversary

Marking its fifth anniversary recently, La Jolla Visitor Information Center has served more than 230,000 tourists and locals during its short life, an average of 43,000 per year.

The anniversary event was celebrated March 7 at Azul La Jolla with Deborah Marengo, Promote La Jolla president, Council President Scott Peters, Lorin Stewart, chairman, and David Peckinbaugh, CEO, both of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis), officiating.

“The intent behind the center is to provide visitors with information on La Jolla and its merchants, as well as assist visitors and locals with inquiries they have about the greater San Diego region,” said Sal Giametta, vice president of public affairs for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, which partners with Promote La Jolla, the community’s Business Improvement District, to operate the visitor center at 7966 Herschel Ave.

“We’ve been successful at serving visitors in the Village,” noted Tiffany Sherer, Promote La Jolla’s executive director. “The location right there at the intersection of Herschel and Prospect is easy and accessible.”

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Promote La Jolla receives an economic development and tourism funding grant from the city of San Diego which assists in operating the visitor center. “We got $36,000 last year,” said Sherer. “Rent and phone service and marketing, that money is coming from that grant.”

Promote La Jolla and ConVis have a 50/50 relationship in managing La Jolla’s Visitor Center. “We do the hard costs, including rent and some of the marketing,” said Sherer, “and they do the staffing and volunteers.”

“We’re delighted with the partnership,” said Giametta. “It’s been a great model for what can be done in other communities. La Jolla is among the icons that we promote as part of the San Diego experience.”

La Jolla businesses - La Valencia, Azul, La Jolla Cove Suites, The Grande Colonial and its 9-10 restaurant, crabcatcher and George’s California Modern (formerly George’s At The Cove) - have advertised with the center helping to defray its operating costs. Council President Scott Peters representing the First District, which includes La Jolla, has also been involved in helping to promote the center. “Scott has been a big supporter from day one,” said Giametta, “assisting us with the effort to establish the center, as well as to support a city Transit Occupany Tax (TOT) allocation from bed taxes every year to help operate the center.”

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Sherer said La Jolla Visitor Center is a public resource particularly advantageous to guests unfamiliar with the Jewel. She pointed out someone from out of town can stop in at the center to explore dining alternatives or to get advice on where to find just that item they’re looking for to take home as a keepsake, whether it be a T-shirt, shoes, a piece of art or jewelry or a hotel accommodation.

Promote La Jolla each month tracks what people are asking for at the visitor center. “Historically, over five years, a map and dining information are the number one and number two information requests,” said Sherer. “It’s a good service for people here in town who need assistance, and to showcase our merchants.”

La Jolla Visitor Center just made it through an especially busy time. “Spring break is pretty popular for three weeks with people from Arizona coming to visit us,” said Sherer.

The Jewel is a year-round destination for visitors. But summer, bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day, is the busiest time of all. The Christmas holidays are the next busiest time after that.

La Jolla is an important tourist destination within San Diego for a variety of reasons. Said Giametta: “It’s the scenic attributes, La Jolla Cove, the natural elements, the coastline, the seals, the climate, the geography and topography. Obviously, La Jolla has a history. It’s a very special part, not only of San Diego, but of San Diego’s history. Of course, there is also the upscale shopping and dining: Two very big reasons why visitors are attracted to La Jolla, as well as its glamorous image and the great amenities you find there.”

Rapidly rising gas prices, thus far, have not affected the tourism industry much in La Jolla or anywhere else in San Diego. Giametta said higher fuel costs, thus far, have been seen by travelers as another incidental expense, not reason enough for them to curtail taking their trips. “Visitors are very resourceful,” he pointed out. “In paying more for gas, they’re economizing elsewhere in their spending, eating at less expensive places, buying fewer souveniers to take home. The bottom line is the cost of fuel is a very small number. We’ve not seen any measurable impact in the negative.”

Giametta noted more than half of the visitors to San Diego come from the 11 Western states. “Just over 50 percent come from California and Arizona alone,” he said.

International visitors, though important, comprise only a small amount, 3.5 to 4 percent, of tourists coming to La Jolla. “That sector took a big hit around 9-11,” said Giametta, “but has been picking up. We’re constrained by the reality of our airport site.”

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Giametta said early returns indicate a modest increase in travelers to San Diego this year. “We expect to do a little better this summer,” he said. “What we’ve seen is further evidence about the importance of the tourist industry to San Diego. Our economy continues to rely heavily on tourist dollars, not only to our economy, but to the treasuries of local goverment entities.”

In the current fiscal year ending June 30, Giametta said projections are visitors will have spent $150 million in bed taxes. “That’s a healthy gain over last year,” he said, “further testimony that tourism is an important part, not just of our economy, but a contributor to what San Diego is all about. La Jolla plays a prominent role in all that.”

Sherer believes the La Jolla Visitor Center has a bright future.

“We’re just looking to five years more in the future of serving all the visitors,” she said. “It’s a great community service.”