San Francisco tourism industry bracing for boost as US lifts international travel restrictions

Stephanie Sierra Image
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
SF tourism bracing for boost as US lifts some travel restrictions
The White House announced the U.S. will be lifting restrictions for international travelers from 33 countries.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The White House announced the U.S. will be lifting restrictions for international travelers from 33 countries, including China, India, Brazil, and most of Europe starting in early November.

So how quickly can we expect a tourism boost in San Francisco?

"Hopefully, we'll start to see something in January," said Joe D'Alessandro, the president and CEO of SF Travel. "We're very excited about it, it's really an important step forward in our recovery."

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D'Alessandro says prior to the pandemic, international visitors accounted for 63% of tourism spending in San Francisco in 2019.

"That's a lot, it's the largest percentage of any major city in the US," he said. "These visitors are coming as tourists or they're also coming to attend meetings for business travel."

As restrictions are lifted across the globe, D'Alessandro expects a portion of that tourism spending will return. The top three international markets coming into San Francisco are the United Kingdom, France and Germany -- all included in list of countries where restrictions will be lifted.

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When San Francisco went into shelter-in-place over a year ago, the city looked like a ghost town. Hard hit - the areas that count on tourists to fill shops, restaurants, and hotel rooms.

"When we have more visitors coming in especially from the EU and the UK that means more of our employees can come back to work and businesses surrounding the hotels will as well," said Kevin Carroll, the president of the Hotel Council of San Francisco.

Carroll says hotel occupancy rate in the city is still around 30 to 35% -- on a normal year it's around 85%. He's hopeful the added foot traffic will give the industry a much-needed boost as international visitors tend to stay longer periods of time.

"We need that to be able to move forward and to reach what we would consider a full recovery," said Carroll.

Carroll explained in order for the city to fully recover conventions, business travel and tourism all need to be back in fully swing.

"How far do you think we are away from that point?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

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"Three years from now, at least three years," Carroll said. "Could potentially be four years."

According to SF Travel, San Francisco has five scheduled conventions this year, several of which are now being hosted virtually. The agency reports there are around 30 conventions tentatively scheduled for next year.

"We hope it stays that way," said D'Alessandro. "2022 will be much better."

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