Margie Sitton, Senior Vice President of Sales and Services, San Diego Tourism Authority shares some great insights about her world famous destination, the fabulous destination experts at SDTA, and Destination Marketing Association International’s (DMAI’s) Terri Roberts gets the inside track.
My chat with Margie was a fun and informative look at San Diego as a premier meeting destination with a few surprises tucked in. Margie is a fast charging, means business, but knows how to have fun kind of gal. She expertly leads her first rate team in San Diego to assist planners in executing a meeting that is objective driven and memorably experiential.
First, tell me a little about yourself and your background in the CVB industry.
MARGIE: I am a hotel gal…starting as a Front Desk clerk at the Sheraton Universal (on a bet) and finishing my 3 decades plus in the hotel industry as VP sales and marketing for Southern California for Starwood Hotels based in San Diego. I have been at the SDTA for just over nine years as the SVP of Sales and Service.
What’s the best thing about your job?
MARGIE: I love selling! And now I have the opportunity to work with all hotel brands and their sales people to put San Diego’s “best foot” forward in order to earn our collective customer’s trust and their business!
Selling a destination like San Diego seems so easy…is it?
MARGIE: There is one little “hard” part about selling San Diego…and that is that most people believe that they already really know San Diego. And if they haven’t been here in the last few years, we have so much more to share! While we are known for our “sunny outlook” great year round weather, beautiful beaches, friendly people and laidback vibe, not to mention the iconic attractions…we are so much more! We have over 134 convention and conference hotels throughout San Diego county that range from unique boutique hotels and resorts to mid-size to large convention hotels. We also have a very engaged and flourishing arts and culture scene. There are 15 museums in Balboa Park and we have a number of theatres and playhouses that have been the starting point for a number of Broadway plays. There is a tremendous culinary and micro brewery “scene” here, not to mention the innovation coming out of our biocom and hi-tech communities. We have evolved over the last 25 years from a quiet, military town to a vibrant and eclectic city and destination. A large factor of that growth is due to ever emerging leisure and meeting destination offerings!
What’s the one thing planners are always surprised to learn about San Diego?
MARGIE: Two things I have to mention! First is how close the airport really is to downtown San Diego. When you land in San Diego you have arrived at the destination….no long cab rides to get out of the airport or to arrive at your hotel. Secondly, speaking of destinations, we have 7 distinct regions within the county of San Diego. So we can offer 7 very different environments so you can meet in San Diego year after year and have a completely different and unique experience.
How do you see the value you provide to planners as a CVB?
MARGIE: We really are the destination experts. We want to know about all of the nuances of a meeting and the attendees so that we match the best hotels, venues and/or activities to the planner’s needs so they will have a successful and meaningful program. Knowing what needs to be accomplished gives us a tremendous opportunity to introduce a planner to ideas and areas of San Diego that they may not even know about.
What do you think are the advantages to reaching out to a CVB first when planning a meeting?
MARGIE: We really care about creating a partnership with meeting planners. Once we match up the requirements with the best hotel/resort to meet those needs, we create a personalized site inspection itinerary and share all of the key information with the hotels and venues so that they can appropriately prepare for the meeting planner’s visit. We accompany the meeting planner, from arrival to departure throughout the site. We set expectations that the hotel sales person completely understands the RFP and tailors the site inspection to showcase how they can execute the meeting. This insures that the time in San Diego is put to good use and we clearly show how important the business is not only to the hotel but also to the destination. We are so confident that we can do a fantastic job with this that we even ask the planners to fill out a short 5 question evaluation about how we did!
What size/type meetings best fit in your destination?
MARGIE: My team is only focused on non-city wide business. So a group from 10 rooms to 2000 rooms on peak is our sweet spot! And with our variety of regions, wide range of types of hotels and resorts as well as a wide diversity of price points we welcome corporate and association meetings, faith based programs, incentive programs, sports activities and well, just any kind of group is welcomed. We’ll help them find just the right home for their meeting.
How important are meetings and tourism to San Diego?
MARGIE: Tourism is our 3rd largest industry. The first is our military, of which we are extremely proud and second is the scientific/technical sector. We are #1 in stem cell research and regenerative medicine thanks to our Scripps Research and University of California, San Diego collaboration, just to name one area of innovation.
The tourism industry employs more than 13% of our population. This means that our community values our leisure and meeting attendee visitors and welcomes them with open arms. We know we can ensure a wonderful visit that will keep San Diego on the “need to go back” list many times in the future.
What motivates you to provide the excellent personal service you are known for?
MARGIE: We all take great pride in representing this incredible destination. We know that what we have done with our site inspection program, the feedback we get from planners, and the great partnership and respect we have with our hotel and venue partners is a huge motivation to keep our standards high and to continue to grow and improve as the dynamics of meeting planning evolves due to the economy, government regulation, mergers, cost cuts etc. We are flexible and always ready to do the right thing!
What would you like all planners to know about SDTA?
MARGIE: We have a great story to tell and I am very confident that our destination experts can introduce almost every planner to something new and unique about San Diego that will surprise them and also enhance any meeting that they book in San Diego. I continue to learn new things everyday myself and I have lived here for 25 years!