SF tourism officials hopeful after Chinese government lifts ban on outbound tourists

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
SF hopeful after Chinese government lifts ban on outbound tourists
After a nearly four-year break, Chinese tourists may finally be coming back to San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- "This is great news for us, and it's great news for San Francisco and the entire Bay Area."

After a nearly four-year break, Chinese tourists may finally be coming back to San Francisco.

Two major developments are exciting those in the local travel industry.

The first, the announcement last week by both the American and Chinese governments to allow more flights between the two countries.

And the second, the Chinese government's lifting of a pandemic-era ban on tour groups visiting the US.

"Before the pandemic, in 2019 to give you an idea, China was the number one market into San Francisco in both the number of visitors and especially spending," said Joe D'Alessandro.

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Chinese tourists have still not come back to the numbers SF saw prior to the pandemic. China was once San Francisco's top international market.

D'Alessandro is the president of SF Travel.

He says China is the last major tourism market that still hasn't returned to the Bay Area.

"Typically before the pandemic, San Francisco saw summer hotel occupancies of 85, 90 percent. We're around 70 percent right now," D'Alessandro said.

The influx of Chinese tourists might not happen all at once though.

MORE: Tourists from Asian countries return to San Francisco as COVID travel restrictions loosen

San Francisco International Airport is seeing more tourists from Asia as many of the countries' travel restrictions have lifted.

Edward Siu is a travel agent based in the city's Chinatown neighborhood.

He says, despite the increase in scheduled flights, so far only United Airlines has added departures out of SFO.

Siu believes it won't be until Chinese airlines also come back that the effects will really be felt.

"But besides that, I don't see any Air China or China Eastern, or some of the other airlines running into San Francisco," Siu said.

Beyond accessibility, Siu says San Francisco remains a strong draw for Chinese tourists.

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Many of whom are interested in the city's ties with their homeland.

"The people come from Asia, come from China, to see what the history is about, what the culture is about," Siu said.

Overall, travel officials don't expect San Francisco to hit pre-pandemic tourism numbers for a few more years.

But, for D'Alessandro, every little bit helps.

"It may not be what it was in 2019 for a while, but every step is helpful to get out recovery, especially in the hospitality industry, underway," D'Alessandro said.

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