District looks to improve tourism in Del Mar

DEL MAR — About 18 months after its inception, the Tourism Business Improvement District is ready to begin spending the $172,000 collected to promote Del Mar to business and leisure travelers nationwide. 

In September 2010, council members authorized the formation of the district, allowing hotel operators to charge guests an additional 1 percent fee that would be used to attract more visitors to the beach city.

One month later the district began collecting the money. During the first year, $172,201 was taken in, but only about $56,000 has been spent, primarily to reimburse the city and hotel owners for startup costs such as legal and administrative fees.

The district has set aside 10 percent of the funds, or about $16,000, for downtown improvements and another 10 percent for the Del Mar Village Association. But the bulk of the money — 74 percent, or about $106,000 — will be used to build a website, contract with a marketing firm and hire a professional photographer.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Mike Slosser, general manager of L’Auberge Del Mar and chairman of Visit Del Mar, the nonprofit formed by hoteliers to oversee the district. “We’re going to move through that money pretty quickly in the next four months.”

The six Del Mar hotels will continue to have their own websites, but the district will create one that will allow people to book directly into them as well. It will also provide specific information about the city, DMVA and other amenities, Slosser said.

“When it’s done it will be a tremendous search engine out there for us from an exposure standpoint,” he said.

The website will take about four months and $30,000 to $40,000 to build. Once that is complete, the district will contract with a marketing firm to manage its e-commerce strategy that will allow hoteliers to look at all website activity and measure its effectiveness.

“We’re just not going out and spending money to spend money,” Slosser said. “We’ll be able to measure how we’re doing so we get better at it every year.”

Plans also include marketing Del Mar “as a brand from a social media and public relations perspective.”

“We’re going to have a lot of stories written in a lot of publications about this community and why it’s great to stay here, walk here, shop here and so forth,” he said.

Slosser said the website and photographer are one-time infrastructure costs. All additional money raised in the next four years will “drive marketing dollars to improve the visibility of Del Mar as a place to stay,” he said.

The district will automatically expire five years after its creation. Hotel owners can repeat the multistep process for re-establishment and, if approved, it will then be valid for 10 years.

The city will receive 1 percent of the money collected annually. That is expected to be about $1,600 in 2012. Slosser said administrative costs will be limited to 5 percent, or approximately $8,000 this year.

The city requires an annual report from the district.

“The only thing I would encourage is that next year the report be really focused on money spent and accomplishments,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “It was kind of fuzzy this year because of the startup issue. … I’m hoping that the next year’s report will really pin down what’s been accomplished with the money.”

Slosser said this year the group wanted to put enough money in the fund to pay back legal fees and overhead costs.

“Now we’re at a place where we’ll probably go through (the reserve money) in about four months,” he said, adding that the district also wanted sufficient funds for website design, public relations and “then to have a balance in there so that we’re never negative.”

“The fundamental objective … is to maintain a competitive edge over other destinations within San Diego County, Coronado and Orange County,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great story when we get this thing up and operational.”

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