When will San Francisco feel 'back to normal' again? Here's what expert says

Stephanie Sierra Image
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
When will SF feel 'back to normal' again? Here's what expert says
When will San Francisco "feel normal" again? An expert says the real "return of tourism" relies heavily on both conventions and business travel.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco is slowly starting to feel alive again. But when will it really start to feel "back to normal?"

Bustling streets, packed hotels, and busy conventions -- a full recovery -- is it weeks, months, or years away?

"It will be at least three years before we are fully recovered from a tourism industry," said Kevin Carroll, the president of the Hotel Council of San Francisco.

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In a typical year, hotel occupancy in San Francisco is around 85%. During the pandemic, that dropped down to 20%. Today, if it's a busy weekend, Carroll says hotels may reach 60% occupancy on a good night.

"It's going to be a slow recovery for us, we'll start to see the tourism first, small meetings, then the conferences," he said. "It'll be important to get our conventions back."

Tourism spending was down 80% last year while convention spending was down 85%.

Carroll says the real "return of tourism" relies heavily on both conventions and business travel.

Most conventions and conferences will return to San Francisco's Moscone Center in the fall. The first one to sneak in beforehand is a group of 1,000 hand surgeons scheduled in June. ABC7 was told attendee groups will start small, but are expected to grow in size by September.

"We anticipate some groups could be in the 10,000 to 20,000 range coming to San Francisco," said Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of SF Travel. "We're excited to see that happen."

D'Alessandro says in a typical year, Moscone Center accommodates 30 to 40 conventions.

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But this year, the city will be lucky to have eight to 10 conventions.

"Next year, we'll get back to a more normal cycle of conventions," he said. "It's still early to tell."

But, thankfully it is leaning in that direction.

"Yes, it is!" said Jon Kimball, the area general manager for the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco's Union Square.

Stephanie Sierra: "When do you anticipate most conventions will return to the hotel?"

Kimball: "It's likely to be between September and October, right in there. That seems to be the time most event planners are thinking of bringing conferences back."

In a typical summer hosting a large convention, the iconic hotel would easily fill all 1,200 rooms. But now, on their busiest weekend, they're lucky to fill 200 rooms.

VIDEO: Experts weigh in on what it'll take to get tourists back in San Francisco

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.

"It has been devastating this past year, but we're on the road to recovery," he said.

Kimball is already seeing a higher volume of tourists and predicts this summer the city will start to feel the first impacts of tourism returning.

"It's happening, people are making reservations for summer weekends and summer stays with their family," said Kimball.

The Westin St. Francis is hosting its first wedding post-pandemic in June.

Cable cars will return to roaming the city streets in the fall.

But, a full recovery? Feeling "back to normal?"

"We're thinking 2025," Carroll said.

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