District improves tourism in Del Mar, stakeholders say

As Del Mar’s Tourism Business Improvement District is preparing its 2015 annual report for the City Council, board members and stakeholders are certain the district has made a positive impact on Del Mar.

“The district has really enhanced our name,” said Man Lai Tam, who has been the general manager of Hotel Indigo Del Mar for more than two years. “It’s made Del Mar a destination location.”

The Del Mar City Council authorized the formation of the district in September 2010, allowing hotel operators to charge guests a 1 percent fee that’s used to attract more visitors to the city. Five years later, the tourism district is set to automatically expire at the end of September. The renewal process will begin this spring.

A representative from each of Del Mar’s hotels, motels and inns — Del Mar Inn/Clarion, Del Mar Motel on the Beach, Hotel Indigo, L’Auberge Del Mar, Les Artistes Inn and Secret Garden Inn — make up Visit Del Mar, the nonprofit created by the district to manage the assessments. The board meets monthly at one of the local hotels.

As executive director of Del Mar Village Association, which shares the goal of keeping Del Mar Village economically vital, Jen Grove serves as an advisory member to the board.

Since its establishment, the Tourism Business Improvement District has launched a marketing campaign and designed a logo and tagline, “Your California Dream.” Although each hotel maintains a separate website, the district launched its site — — in March 2013. The site allows visitors to book directly. It also offers information about the hotels, restaurants and things to do in the coastal city.

“It took the district a little while to get organized and get going, but since they have, they have been doing a lot of promotions and have been getting exposure,” said KC Vafiadis, a Del Mar native and commercial property owner. “More promotion has brought people in.”

The district plans to present its 2015 report to the council in May. Last May, it informed council members that hotel occupancy had increased about 5.7 percent annually, with the average daily rate up by 20.5 percent since the district was formed.

“The numbers have shown that we’ve had a dramatic increase in improvement in the room nights in Del Mar as a result of the TBID and its marketing,” said Richard Earnest, a former Del Mar mayor, who now serves as Del Mar Village Association board president.

“Each of us have seen an increase, year over year, in occupancy,” added Tam, who serves as a board member for both the association and the tourism district. “The best part is, our average rates have all gone up. That is very important because when our average rate goes up, meaning that the quality of the hotels are higher, it really helps improve the perception of the city.”

Local businesses also benefit when visitors visit Del Mar.

Vafiadis, who now lives in Carmel Valley, owns Stratford Square. Located at 15th Street and Camino del Mar, the 15,000-square-foot building houses Americana Restaurant, Jimmy O’s, five retail shops and several other businesses.

“There are definitely more visitors right now than there has been in the last four or five years,” said Vafiadis, who serves on the village association board and as a liaison to the tourism district.

Although the district was established to attract more visitors to Del Mar, longtime resident Karen Powell said it also benefits community members.

“The funds that are raised by the TBID go to help us bring programming to the area and to the residents,” said Powell, who has lived in Del Mar for 35 years. An active volunteer in the community, she serves as secretary and vice president of promotions on the Del Mar Village Association board.

“It also brings people in from outside of the community to see how wonderful of a community we are,” she said.

Last year, the tourism district brought in more than $130,000, Grove said. It expects a little more than $260,000 by the end of this year. Most of the money collected is budgeted for a promotional campaign. The district also allocates 10 percent to the village association, which has totaled about $15,000 per year, Grove said.

Funds from the district help the association host community events, including last year’s Santa by the Sea, a holiday celebration that featured the annual tree lighting, an outdoor film screening and photos with Santa.

The village association is also using district funds to plan new programs, such as Pop Up Culture, a series of upcoming pop-up concerts from 5-7 p.m. every Saturday in April and May at L’Auberge Del Mar’s outdoor amphitheater at 15th Street and Camino del Mar.

“We supplement a lot of activities and promote Del Mar with those funds,” Powell said. “We want to provide residents with fun and exciting things to do downtown, and we like bringing in tourists from outside. Being a small incorporated city, tourism is what really keeps us afloat. We like sharing what we have with the greater community and out-of-towners.”

Another 10 percent of funds goes to commercial zone improvements. About $60,000 has been set aside for downtown improvements, Grove said.

To date, the tourism district has funded two pedestrian directory signs — one at Dog Beach and one between Hotel Indigo and the Del Mar Inn — along with 32 holiday banners, installation and removal of the holiday tree and the addition of holiday ornaments. The district is working with the city to identify new downtown improvement projects with remaining funds, roughly $35,000, Grove said.

“We’re hoping to make our town shine and look beautiful,” Vafiadis said. “I just think all the organizations working together is really important right now.”

With the Tourism Business Improvement District set to expire later this year, board members and stakeholders hope the council will renew the district, especially with the Breeders’ Cup headed to Del Mar in 2017.

“It took the district a long time to get going,” Vafiadis said. “They are finally up and running, and I’m hoping they continue to get exposure for Del Mar.

“Now is a critical time because we have the Breeders’ Cup coming. We need to be ready for it. Anything they can do to get people prepared for that will help.”

Added Earnest, “We’re now seeing the fruits of their labor. The momentum that’s been created needs to continue. If somehow the council decides it didn’t really work and goes in a different direction, I think that would be a big mistake.”

For more about the Tourism Business Improvement District, visit

For more about the Del Mar Village Association, visit