La Jolla’s visitor center staying open

La Jolla’s visitor center at 7966 Herschel Ave. will remain open despite the recession’s negative impact on the San Diego region’s travel industry.

In answer to concerns expressed by local business people that the small facility that hands out directions and materials to tourists might close because Promote La Jolla could no longer be responsible for it, the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (ConVis) has stepped in.

“People don’t come to San Diego to stay in hotels,” said Joe Terzi, ConVis president and chief executive officer. “They come to San Diego to experience the restaurants and the attractions. Our role is to make sure we’re leveraging all the opportunities we have for consumers who are looking to come to the marketplace.”

Joe Terzi and others from his staff met last week with business owners and hoteliers at The Grande Colonial La Jolla Hotel and gave a bit of a “state of the industry” report.

He said the nonprofit is charged with promoting and monitoring regional tourism as part of its ongoing commitment to keeping a two-way dialogue going with communities seeking to promote themselves — and the region — as a tourist destination.

Kerri Verbeke Kapich, who handles marketing for ConVis, said the news wasn’t good for hotel occupancy in 2009 but was better for revenues.

“For the La Jolla subset, occupancy is currently 63.8 percent for the year, down 11 percent over last year,” she said. “The average daily room rate in La Jolla is $150, higher than the $127 county average.”

There are approximately 55,000 hotel rooms throughout San Diego County, and the La Jolla subregion including Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, UTC, Sorrento Valley, Solana Beach and parts

of San Diego constitutes about 12 percent of that inventory.

Terry Underwood, Grande Colonial’s general manager, said he came away from the ConVis meeting “with a clear understanding that the best and most effective way we can help our small segment of the greater San Diego region is by actively and effectively communicating with their public relations and sales teams.”

He added, “It further emphasizes the importance of an ongoing dialogue.”

Underwood said there are only about 1,000 rooms combined in the handful of boutique hotels in the downtown Village and La Jolla Shores, which he said have been hard hit by the recession.

“Business has been and continues to be disproportionately negatively impacted because of the higher concentration of luxury, higher-priced properties,” he said. “In a difficult economy, it tends to be more difficult to sell the more expensively priced properties than the less expensively priced ones.”

Margie Sitton, senior vice president of sales for ConVis, noted that the business meeting market in San Diego has been challenged by the recession.

“We’re working hard to turn that tide,” she said, adding the latest figures show signs of that market “loosening up.”

Sue Mason, ConVis director of visitor services, said the bureau is committed to keeping La Jolla’s visitor center open via kiosk ad sales from local merchants and by applying for a grant from the city.

“The good news is the majority of our advertisers have re-upped,” she said. “We’ll be talking to the city about applying for a grant Promote La Jolla had used to pay the rent at the La Jolla Visitor’s Center.”

In the past, PLJ has gotten an economic development and tourism funding grant from the city for its 50/50 partnership in managing the visitor center, paying for rent and marketing while ConVis has been responsible for handling staffing and volunteers.

Mason added that La Jolla is an important part of ConVis’ destination mix and sell for the region.

“We like to promote the rest of San Diego to La Jolla’s visitors,” she said.