Will weekday hotel deals and discounted rates lure travelers to San Diego during pandemic?

The Rancho Bernardo Inn.
The Rancho Bernardo Inn is joining other San Diego hotels in offering deals to lure visitors during the week.
(Courtesy of Rancho Bernardo Inn)

With business meetings and conventions non-existent because of the pandemic, struggling hotels are hoping a marketing campaign dubbed “Yay weekyays” will fill vacant rooms


Discounted room rates, complimentary parking and free nights are among the enticements San Diego hotels are now offering as part of a tourism marketing campaign aimed at boosting overnight stays during the much less busy weekday periods that are suffering because of the pandemic.

With summer now in the rearview mirror, and meeting and convention travel dead for the foreseeable future, tourism leaders are trying everything they can to revive lagging business in the lodging industry. Dubbed “Yay Weekyays!,” the latest campaign is designed to fill hotel rooms between Sunday and Wednesday.

While room rates aren’t being deeply discounted, they are typically lower than those on the weekends, and hotels are throwing in extras like a free second or third night or a dining credit in hopes of persuading frazzled parents and stressed-out workers from Southern California and Arizona to come to San Diego for a mini getaway.

“I can tell you the hotels are running about 52 percent occupancy for the week because the weekends are strong,” said San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Julie Coker. “But it’s more like 20, 30 percent during the week, which is not even half of where we should be. Normally we’d be close to 80 percent occupancy.”

The most recent forecast, released this week by the Tourism Authority, is grim, showing 2020 ending the year with overall hotel occupancy of 49.3 percent, compared to last year’s average of 76.7 percent. Hotel stays will still be down in 2021, although, not as much as this year. The tourism bureau is predicting an average occupancy rate of 62.1 percent for next year.

For the final quarter of this year, the report estimates that revenue per available room — a widely used metric for measuring hotel performance — will be down 50 percent compared with a year earlier.

Given San Diego’s appeal as a vacation destination and its mild climate year-round, Coker says she believes the weekday promotion can be effective in boosting visitation.

“With people working remotely and a lot of children still doing school work from home, we’re saying you can do that right here Sunday through Wednesday, and the attractiveness is our beaches are less crowded, and lines shorter at our attractions.”

The Tourism Authority is pushing its digital “weekyays” campaign via such platforms as Spotify, Pandora, Facebook and Pinterest, as well as online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline. The idea is that when people are searching for hotels, San Diego ads like “Yay for the Weekyay” and “Escape to a San Diego hotel Sunday — Wednesday” will pop up.

The $135,000 initiative, which will run through Jan. 3, is part of the Tourism Authority’s ongoing $6 million marketing campaign known as “Happiness is Calling You Back.” The first phase of that, which ran during the summer months through Labor Day, was all about staycations and encouraging San Diegans to get out and stay in local hotels, Coker said.

The various weekday promotions vary from hotel to hotel, but for the most part, visitors shouldn’t expect steep discounts, although it’s likely rates during weekdays, when occupancy is much lower, will be more attractive than on a weekend. For instance, at the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego, an overnight stay on a weekday in early November is about 15 percent less than what it would cost for a Friday and Saturday night stay.

On weekends, the Hard Rock had been about half full, but during the week, occupancy had fallen to the low double digits, said Mark Van Cooney, vice president of operations with Evolution Hospitality, which operates the Hard Rock.

“We did learn from the past, with 9/11 and the recession, that it took a long time to get consumers to get back into what a regular rate structure is,” Van Cooney said. “We’re not trying to be greedy but because of the pandemic, our staffing has been reduced dramatically, so we’re trying to balance that staffing with the amount of business we have. Also, we’re not going to be able to compete with a larger, 1000-room hotel that can more easily discount their rooms.”

The Rancho Bernardo Inn, a 265-acre resort that is well-positioned for a more outdoor-focused visit during the pandemic. also has been struggling with sluggish weekday business, given that 60 percent of its normal, pre-pandemic business was meetings and conventions.

Hoping to jumpstart weekday stays, the resort is offering a “weekday wanderlust” package that includes a second night free when one night is booked between Monday and Wednesday.

“We’ve marketed to our guests about being able to be outside, we have a golf course, three pools, chef gardens, so we’re using that to our benefit to allow people to feel comfortable not only dining outdoors but just to grab a cup of coffee in the morning and sit on one of our lawns and feel safe,” Livingston said.

“We had tried putting flyers on cars, and we’ve emailed people in our personal data base, offering promotions through every channel. Nothing has been off the table.”