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Coupon Package Helps Visitors, Balboa Park Museums

June 03, 1986|BILL RITTER | San Diego County Business Editor

It was panic that Pam Crooks felt when she returned from a three-week vacation in mid-April and discovered that an ambitious plan to market a cooperative one-ticket package to Balboa Park museum visitors hadn't yet secured seed money.

Crooks, marketing manager of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, acknowledges now that she lost a bit of her can-do spirit.

"I didn't think we could do it," she conceded last week, minutes after unveiling "Passport to Balboa Park," a discount ticket scheme that officials hope will increase by about 50% the number of museums toured by park visitors.

The Passport package, a $10.50 value, began selling for $8 Sunday. Purchasers of the coupons, good for one year, can visit four of the seven participating museums by using one, two or three of the perforated coupons in the Passport; admission varies depending on the number of coupons required by each museum.

The $5,000 seed money for printing the Passport marketing plan was provided by California First Bank and Target stores.

The participating museums are the Aerospace Historical Center, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Natural History Museum, the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, the San Diego Hall of Champions, the San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Man. The nine other Balboa Park museums do not charge admission.

Balboa Park officials don't believe that the new marketing plan will increase attendance but hope that it will raise the number of museums visited by each tourist.

Each of the 1.6 million park visitors last year toured an average of 1.8 museums, and officials say the Passport program could increase that to three museums per visitor.

That the plan--two painstakingly slow years in the making--was rushed through in time for the 1986 summer onslaught was hardly accidental.

Crooks, who served as chairwoman of the Balboa Park Passport Committee, and other visitor industry officials believe that tourism--San Diego's third-largest industry--will generate its biggest year ever.

In the summer quarter last year--June, July and August--nearly 9.1 million visitors spent a record $679 million in San Diego County.

With falling gas prices making San Diego a more attractive destination--and with the threat of terrorism abroad keeping many Americans at home this summer--those numbers should easily increase, industry experts contend.

Working to cut into the number of visitors are Vancouver's Expo 86 and the Statue of Liberty hoopla on the Fourth of July holiday, which is expected to attract millions of visitors.

To help attract visitors--especially those within driving distance--the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau will spend $400,000 on a media blitz this summer season, primarily through television, radio and billboard ads in Arizona and Los Angeles. The expenditure reflects a generally upbeat attitude among those who monitor economic indicators.

"This summer will be the best summer we've ever had," said Max Schetter, head of the Chamber of Commerce's Economic Research Bureau.

The only tourist sector downturn this year may occur in the hotel industry, where occupancy rates have dropped in each of the last eight months, Schetter said. Occupancy in March totaled 76.2%, down from 85.5% in March, 1985.

Nonetheless, hotel officials in San Diego don't plan any special group efforts to lure visitors here this summer, according to Hotel-Motel Assn. Executive Director Rose Marie Starns. "We expect a good summer," she said.

Sea World, San Diego's most visited attraction, also is looking for an increase over last summer's 1.4 million visitors, spokeswoman Jackie Hill said. The park doesn't plan any additional marketing to attract crowds, other than its usual advertising.

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