San Francisco is looking to host smaller events to help boost tourism

Change Take

Small corporate events held outside the sprawling Moscone Center expo complex flourished last year. With China still frozen, San Francisco travel marketers want to push this type of business even further in the coming years.

— Matthew Parsons

The San Francisco Tourism Association is working more closely with the city’s hotels to promote smaller meetings and events.

The association, which is the official destination marketing organization for the city and county of San Francisco, said this week it noted that 75 percent of group overnight stays booked in 2022 were for events outside of the city’s major convention venue, the Moscone Center . It will now target these types of smaller group events with shorter booking windows as it expands efforts to attract international group business.

“Given that associations book conferences several years later, our strategy for 2024 is to secure more corporate events, possibly held in hotels due to their smaller size, to support the hospitality, events and tourism business in the city,” said Nicole Rogers, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of San Francisco Travel.

However, major events returned to scale last year. The Moscone Center hosted 33 events in 2022, up from five after it reopened in September 2021. There were 347,788 hotel rooms booked by visitors to those events in 2022, a 1,933 percent jump from the previous year.

Hotel room nights associated with Moscone Center events are expected to nearly double in 2023 to 673,000. So far, 35 events have been confirmed for the center this year. The association also expanded its convention and event services sales force from 12 people in 2021 to 23 this year.

Tourism organizations around the world seem to be rethinking their priorities right now – notable renovations include Amsterdam and its (in)famous red light district, while Rome is thinking big for 2023 and beyond. (See Skift’s recent coverage of VisitBritain and Hawaii too)

Missions in Asia

With its former top market China still out of the picture, the association will visit Japan and Korea on tourism and PR missions in April. Global trade shows were boosted by strong Asian interest.

“The focus on these markets is of particular importance given that China continues to lag behind,” the association said.

China was San Francisco’s biggest overseas market before the pandemic, and he blamed geopolitical reasons and “overwhelming bilateral government restrictions that prevent the resumption of air service.” The airport expects to return to traffic levels of 58 million passengers per year for 2019 between 2025 and 2026.

In addition to its future strategy, the San Francisco Tourism Association revealed its results for 2022 this week. Visitor arrivals rose by almost a third to 21.9 million, including a 211% increase in international visits. Visitor spending doubled year over year to $7.4 billion, generating $522 million in tourism-generated fees and tax revenue for the city.

Visitor arrivals this year are expected to reach 23.9 million, and visitor spending in 2023 is expected to grow to $8.7 billion.

“San Francisco is still not reaching pre-pandemic numbers as expected, but we expect to see further growth this year, especially as we begin to welcome more travelers from Asia,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel. “With the return of flight routes to San Francisco International Airport from cities across Asia and easing of testing requirements, we should see increases in international visitation and spending.”

The brand’s campaign features the return of the tagline “Always San Francisco” and is set to launch in May. The $6 million campaign will be complemented by other marketing programs, including one with Expedia.

Tourism is one of the largest job-creating sectors in San Francisco.

Photo: Tourism is one of San Francisco’s largest job-creating sectors.

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