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Attendance Off at Tourist Attractions

SAN DIEGO COUNTY BUSINESS EDITOR

San Diego’s tourism industry suffered through a poor first quarter as several local visitor attractions reported significant declines in attendance.

Sea World, for example, reported 30% fewer visitors in March than in March, 1989, and 17.6% lower for this year’s first three months than in the same quarter last year. Visitors to the San Diego Zoo were down 20% in March and 13.1% for the first quarter.

Officials were at a loss to explain the drop-off, except to note that there have been more days of rain this year than in 1989 and that Easter, a key holiday for tourism, fell in April this year instead of March as in 1989.

“Nobody’s traveling,” said Sea World spokesman Dan LeBlanc, adding that several other Southern California amusement parks, including Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain, are experiencing lackluster years. “Everybody’s down to some degree,” LeBlanc said.

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Other local tourist destinations reporting declines in March attendance included: Wild Animal Park, down 16.3%; Cabrillo National Monument, down 6.5%; Old Town State Park, down 39.1%, and local museums, down 11.2%.

Total visitors to the San Diego area were 2.7 million in March, off 2.9% from 2.78 million visitors in March, 1989, according to a computer model designed by San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. Airport passenger arrivals, one of the statistics factored in by the computer, declined 1.2% in March from the same month in 1989.

Hotel occupancy rates in San Diego continued to drop in March, a reflection of the bumper crop of new hotels in the county. For March, the average hotel occupancy rate was 68.9%, down from 71.4% in March 1989, according to a survey by Pannell Kerr Forster, an accounting and consulting firm that tracks the hotel industry.

For the year to date, San Diego area hotel occupancies are down even more, to 65.4% from 66.8% for the same three-month period last year. A healthy hotel market typically features occupancy rates of 70% or higher, said William A. Seymour, Pannell Kerr Forster’s partner-in-charge for San Diego.

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Hardest hit by the hotel construction boom are hotels in Mission Valley, Seymour said, where hotels have lost considerable convention business, particularly to new hotels downtown.

Hotels in the Golden Triangle in north San Diego have also seen reduced occupancy rates, in part because of the openings over the past six months of the Hyatt Regency La Jolla and Sheraton at Torrey Pines, Seymour said.

Despite the softening market, average daily room rates at San Diego hotels held their own in March. The average rate was $83.28, up 4.9% from the $79.42 average rate in March, 1989. Seymour credited the 20.5% increase in the average rate at local all-suites hotels to $80.25 per night for the overall increase.

Spokesmen for both Sea World and the zoo said construction projects at their attractions discouraged visitors to some extent but not enough to account for all of the reduction in attendance. Sea World is building its first new attraction since 1987, called Forbidden Reef, which will open this summer. The zoo is building an $11.4-million gorilla habitat to open in March, 1991.

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