San Francisco convention calendar 'in limbo' as attendees fear Delta variant

Stephanie Sierra Image
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
San Francisco sees fewer conventions amid Delta variant fears
In a typical year, the Moscone Center hosts around 40 conventions with anywhere from 10,000 to 80,000 attendees. Only eight have been scheduled this year and it's still unclear if they will be in-person.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Concerns over the COVID-19 Delta variant have already impacted attendance at several upcoming conventions scheduled at San Francisco's Moscone Center next month.

"It's caused some cancellations of individual attendees, some people are still nervous about traveling," said Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of SF Travel. "Our borders aren't open for discretionary travel right now, so a lot of our international delegates can't come into the U.S."

The first major convention returning to the Moscone Center is a group of dentists scheduled in two weeks.

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"But we don't know what their attendance is at this point," said D'Alessandro. "A lot of these event planners are playing it by ear."

In a typical year, the Moscone Center hosts around 40 conventions ranging from 10,000 to 80,000 attendees. This year only eight have been scheduled and it's still unclear if they will be in-person or what the range of attendance will be. Several organizers have indicated they may go virtual but are waiting for updated registration numbers before making a decision.

"It definitely has been a constant, where are we at? What is safe? What is the right thing to do?" said Alexa Baggio, CEO of Perks, a company that helps employers plan events and provide services to staff.

Baggio says concerns over the Delta variant have resulted in a heightened demand for hybrid conventions that are partially virtual with fewer people.

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Anyone who attends an indoor event in California with 1,000 or more people will have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.

"I think a few months ago it was Zoom fatigue and now they're looking at hybrid convention models and interesting solutions to keep people engaged," said Baggio.

Kelly Powers, the director of the Hotel Council of San Francisco, says a handful of companies are already pushing back hotel meetings and conferences until the city's transmission rate drops down. Powers added hotel occupancy rates in San Francisco are currently around 30%, whereas a typical year it's usually around 80 to 85%.

"We're seeing the impacts," said Kurt Niver, restaurant manager of Tadich Grill in San Francisco. "People have called me and cancelled reservations because they were concerned about coming into the restaurant with the new variant being around."

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Niver says business has already started to drop in the past two weeks.

"We were hoping these conventions would've helped us," he said. "Rather than get back to the full swing, I think we're going to see a plateau for a little while."

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