San Diego Takes the Stage for PCMA Convening Leaders 2024 

Aerial view of San Diego waterfront including the San Diego Convention Center

Skift Take

More than 4,200 attendees are in San Diego for Convening Leaders, and the city is showcasing all it has to offer groups.

All eyes are on San Diego as it hosts the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Convening Leaders conference. The conference is known for attracting decision-makers, particularly association leaders, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue.

“This is the Super Bowl when it comes to business events,” says Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation.

Convention Center Headquarters

The bayfront San Diego Convention Center is hosting the gathering. It recently ranked number four in The Wall Street Journal’s list of top U.S. convention centers. The city itself ranks third in Cvent’s Top Destinations in North America list.

This is a center that focuses on sustainability. A kitchen tour with the Convention Center’s Executive Chef Sufi Karaien showcased how recycling is a focus. He is also known for the custom chocolate bars with unique ingredients that surprise and delight. His creations are very popular at conventions like ComicCon. 

San Diego’s near-perfect weather attracted many attendees to tack a few extra days onto their itineraries. The city is known for its yearlong sunshine and 70 miles of coastline. It is also coming on strong as a hub of innovation with world-class universities, a burgeoning life-sciences and biotech sector, and a developing Research and Development District. Twenty-one cranes dotting the downtown skyline reflect this development.

Airport Updates

A $3.4 billion dollar project is underway at the San Diego International Airport forecast to serve more than 25 million passengers this year. A behind-the-scenes tour showcased the progress being made on what will be a new 30-gate, state-of-the-art building. 

Credit: San Diego Tourism Authority

Although, due to space constraints, a new runway is not being added, the restaurants, waiting areas, and rooftop decks will be welcome additions to the terminal that was built in the 1960s.

Meeting planners rave about the fact their attendees can walk off their planes and check into their downtown hotel within 10 minutes. 

The first 19 gates of the new Terminal 1 are on track to open by late summer of 2025, with the final 11 gates debuting by January 2028. 

Millions of Dollars in Hotel Renovations

With an eye on the future, many renovation projects are underway in the city. One of the biggest is at Hotel Del Coronado, which has been welcoming travelers for more than 135 years. All set along the beach, 901 guestrooms are spread out in various buildings, some brand new and others completely reimagined. 

The Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina is also being completely reimagined in a $85 million transformation. The renovation, set to be completed this year, includes 1,053 guest rooms and 127,651 square feet of meeting space. 

Billions in Business

The San Diego Tourism Authority expects to add new business booked as a result of hosting PCMA to what it already forecasts as a record-breaking year. It is anticipating $1.7 billion to be infused into the local economy this fiscal year from the 53 conventions booked.

Direct spending on hotels, restaurants, and attractions is forecast to be $1.1 billion — also a record. In addition, room nights booked for conventions are expected to total 961,000, compared to 823,000 in 2019.

Among some of the bigger conventions headed to San Diego this year are the American Academy of Dermatology, American Association for Cancer Research, American Thoracic Society International Conference, and the BIO International Convention, which typically attracts more than 15,000 biotechnology and pharma leaders. One of San Diego’s most colorful annual conventions is Comic-Con, which attracts over 100,000. 

Credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Rippetoe points out that the city has a 70 percent retention rate for repeat business. 

A surprise to some is San Diego’s international flair. Given its proximity to the border, 17 miles away from Tijuana, Mexican influences abound. The city also hasn’t experienced the staffing shortage many other cities have, as many will come from Mexico for employment. San Diego’s relationship with Tijuana will be on full display as the cities have been selected as this year’s joint World Design Capital.