Big Tourism Bucks in Technology, Medical Conventions

When you think of money-making conventions, you may think Comic-Con – the largest yearly gathering by far.

But if you’re looking at bang for your buck in terms of tourist tax revenue, look no farther than this week’s Cisco Live, a huge education and training event for IT professionals inside the convention center.

What started as a group of 18,000 attendees has ballooned to 25,000, and they have money to spend. The Convention Center Corporation values strong attendance numbers, but there's another, equally important barometer for success: direct spending.

Preliminary numbers estimate Cisco Live attendees spend an average of about $1,600 per person while they're visiting -- almost three times the $600 that the average Comic-Con attendee spends.

"Most of the people here make a good living and they certainly aren't afraid to spend money,” said Cisco Live visitor Anthony Oligino. “Every night I've been out spending money, I know that!"

With convention center expansion plans on hold, the value of attracting groups with increased spending power becomes even more important. Last year medical conventions made up 20 percent of attendance but accounted for 40 percent of the economic impact.

Cisco - which transformed the convention center into a private office setting -- is just the kind of client local businesses want: the kind with attendees willing to spend money.

An online Cisco poll asked input about future conference locations, and San Diego was at the top of the list, above Las Vegas.

"I think we really have a great customer and employee base that attends right now,” said Kati Dahm with Cisco. “I think this is really a great size for us, which is why we keep coming back to San Diego."

For many of the attendees, the highlight happened Wednesday night when Aerosmith played a private concert just down the street at Petco Park.

Cisco will have another event in San Diego in February because they like the weather and the size of the convention center.

However, that is not enough for some organizations. The Convention Center Corporation sent NBC 7 a list of groups who they say won't book in future years unless the center expands. But with debate over contiguous versus stadium-centered, non-contiguous space still going, focusing on conferences with quality spenders is more important than ever.

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