SF Mayor London Breed heads to Europe to court international visitors back to Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Roughly two years since the start of the pandemic tourism is still a long way away from a full recovery.

That's one reason why San Francisco Mayor London Breed has headed to Europe to try and lure international visitors back to the city.

"Meeting with existing airlines. We'll also be meeting with airlines that don't currently serve SFO, in the hopes of launching new air service into our airport," Doug Yakel, spokesperson for SFO Airport, said.

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Yakel,says the airport is recovering passengers at a slower rate than other major air hubs.

"Part of the reason for that is because international passengers are such a large portion of our overall picture. About 25 percent of all pre-pandemic passengers were actually international," he said.

COVID requirements for travelers have played a key role in the lag. However, with most European countries dropping coronavirus restrictions, it remains the part of the world where people are most able to travel to the U.S.

But the desire to bring international tourists back to San Francisco is about more than just broadening the city's appeal. It's also about strengthening the Bay Area's local economy.

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"Pre pandemic, there were about 100,000 jobs around the Bay Area that rely on the air service that SFO provides," Yakel said.

Experts say many of those jobs rely on tourism and the money international visitors bring.

Mainly because they generally stay longer - spending more money on things like hotels and restaurants.

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"Instead of two days, you know, maybe a quick city escape, these folks are planning like two weeks in California," Clint Henderson, Managing Editor of travel website The Points Guy, said.

But with tourism numbers expected to take years to get back to 2019 levels, the full extent of the benefits could take a while to be felt.

"We're at about two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels. We're hoping to get to about 75-percent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year," said Yakel.

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