How Bay Area's early COVID precautions playing part in bringing tourists back

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It might be a somewhat unscientific measurement, for a place dedicated to science. But if crowds at the ticket window are any indication, tourism at the California Academy of Sciences is back.

And the uptick wasn't lost on the Director of Guest Operations Leah Van der Mei.

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"Oh, we were delighted in the last three weeks, spring break was really strong. And it wasn't just our local Bay Area visitors which we love, but we had folks from Southern California, out of state, we even had international," says Van der Mei.

In a possible twist of fate, the same COVID crisis that's been keeping visitors away from the Bay Area may now be playing a part in bringing them back. Even with the crisis beginning to ease, and mask mandates changing.

Pablo Velasco and Ximena Paz flew in from Las Vegas, where she's an emergency room nurse.

"I think I actually feel safer than I do in Las Vegas, people follow the restrictions a lot better. I see a lot of people wearing masks. It makes me feel safer," says Paz.

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Kru Mackenzie is a tattoo artist visiting from Atlanta. She agrees that the Bay Area's sensibilities during the COVID crisis may have positioned it as a safe choice compared to some other destinations.

"Yes, Atlanta is pretty lax, to say the least when it comes to COVID," says Mackenzie.

Across the street at the de Young museum, an increasing number of tourists have also been snapping up the limited tickets to popular exhibits like the Calder-Picasso installation. Communications Director Linda Butler says it's critical for the museum's future because roughly 40% of their normal visitor traffic is from outside the Bay Area.

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"We're really looking to reboot those and to getting and getting them back to pre-pandemic levels. It's very important for our economic recovery," Butler explains.

While some around the country may have sneered at the Bay Area's stricter stance on COVID measures, they may turn out to be a wise investment in the long run. As tourists decide if they'll answer the draw, of one of the premier destinations in the world.

Both the de Young and the Academy of Science say a surprising number of out-of-town visitors actually go on to become regular subscribers and even online donors after they return home.

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