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San Diego Tourism Authority Announces Its 2023 Tourism Accelerator Cohort

To promote diversity, equity and inclusion, 10 businesses receive a year of mentorship valued at more than $14,000.

SAN DIEGO, CA – Today the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA) announced its 2023-2024 Tourism Accelerator cohort. The initiative, one of the first of its kind in the country, is designed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the local tourism industry by providing free membership, mentoring, education and networking opportunities to businesses owned by people of color, women, veterans and those who identify as LGBTQ+.

The second-ever cohort, which was selected from nearly 50 applicants, reflects the diversity of the region and the industry, embracing a wide range of business types with owners from a variety of backgrounds. They include:

Négociant Winery Négociant is an urban winery located in Hillcrest’s Uptown District.
Owner – John Rinaldi
Veteran, LGBTQ+-owned business

Hey Sugar Hey Sugar is a Southern Comfort dessert shop that provides nostalgic treats that remind you of the good old days.
Owner – Chantanaya Buie
Black, veteran, woman-owned business

Sip Wine & Beer Supporting local, women, Black, Indigenous and people of color-owned brands, SIP Wine & Beer makes beer and wine fun, engaging and accessible.
Owner – Cassandra Schaeg
Black, woman-owned business

Ocean Connectors Educates, inspires, and connects youth living in underserved Pacific coastal communities through the study of migratory marine life.
Owner – Janaira Quigley
Woman-owned business

Kebab Craft Kebab Craft is a fast-casual Mediterranean eatery with a California flair.
Owner – Shannon Salhany
Black, woman-owned business

Valdes Language Services Valdes Language Services provides top quality translation and interpretation services with the goal of bridging the English-Spanish language gap in San Diego.
Owner – Laura Valdes
Hispanic/LatinX, woman-owned business

JA Cooley Museum / Frank the Trainman JA Cooley Museum was founded by Jim & Carmen Cooley in 1997. Jim passed away in 2019 and Carmen, an immigrant from Mexico, continues to operate the museum with the help of her daughter, Carmen.
Owner – Carmen Cooley Graham
Hispanic/LatinX, woman-owned business

Selfie Station Events A photo booth business offering two options for events: a PRO and a MINI. One is a printing photo booth (PRO), and one is a digital booth (MINI).
Owner – Lucy Yates
Hispanic/LatinX, woman-owned business

FeMAVEN LLC FeMAVEN Getaways is a modern approach to travel, with curated getaways, allowing female travelers to discover the world with like-minded women while indulging in new experiences.
Owner – Jazmin Cornejo
Hispanic/LatinX, Indigenous/Native American, woman-owned business

Ortega's, A Mexican Bistro Ortega's is a full service upscale casual Mexican restaurant with dine in, take out, a private banquet room, and a full bar.
Owner – John Haugland
LGBTQ+, Guamanian-owned business

SDG&E and The Shipyard, a leading, global agency, are the financial sponsors of this year’s program, which will offer participants a suite of services valued at over $14,000, including:

  • Free Membership in SDTA and free admission to select SDTA events and special access to SDTA senior staff, board members and program investors.
  • Business services and coaching from the top providers in San Diego in the fields of finance, risk management, commercial real estate, operations and marketing.
  • $500 voucher for a course through UC San Diego Extension.
  • Free advertising in brochure racks at over 450 locations in San Diego from Certified Folder.
  • A $1,000 credit to use on SDTA’s digital advertising platforms.
  • Free quarter-page ad in the San Diego Business Journal for those businesses that are not already advertisers.

Julie Coker, SDTA’s president and CEO, said the San Diego Tourism Authority is pleased to offer a second Tourism Accelerator cohort after a successful pilot program in 2021-2022. By increasing the number of diverse businesses within SDTA membership, visitors will have more choices when they visit San Diego, boosting equity across the region.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is vital to the long-term sustainability of the tourism industry,” Coker said. “Inclusive travel benefits the visitor, bolsters the economy, and delivers a strong return on investment. It's the right thing to do — for people and for business."

Rick Milenthal, CEO of The Shipyard, said he is honored to be a sponsor of this year’s cohort.

“Supporting and uplifting underrepresented communities is critical to our collective success in San Diego,” Milenthal said. “Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is a cornerstone of our values at The Shipyard, and we’re excited to learn from and support this cohort in their endeavors.”

Jennifer Jett, vice president of operations support at SDG&E, said DEI work is pivotal.

“The success of diverse business enterprises is an important component of an inclusive economy,” she said. “Through our sponsorship of the Tourism Accelerator program, we want to help create a more equitable region that is reflective of our culturally diverse communities.”

A look at the selection criteria:

  • Applicants needed to be tourism and hospitality businesses owned by people of color, women, veterans or those who identify as LGBTQ+, and based in the San Diego region.
  • Organizations must have operated for at least one year to qualify.
  • Business categories included, but were not limited to, restaurants, retail, activities and attractions, museums, transportation, and meeting and event services.
  • Excluded businesses included any type of accommodation, airline or cruise line.
  • Current or former Members of the San Diego Tourism Authority (and all affiliated organizations) were not eligible.

A diverse panel reviewed the applications while also considering the viability of the business model, business needs and commitment to community service as part of the selection process.

For more information, visit: Details on applying for the next round will be available early next year.




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