A new beginning for the SF Travel Association 

Happy New Year, lunar and otherwise. I have always liked that aspect of San Francisco. You have at least two, if not more, opportunities to celebrate the beginning of a new year and make a fresh start. According to some prognosticators, the Year of the Hare, which arrives Feb. 3, bodes well for the hospitality industry.

Those of us at the San Francisco Travel Association certainly hope so. And even with the celestial cottontail not quite out of the hutch, we are making some significant changes in 2011 (or 4709 on the lunar calendar, if you prefer). For starters, we have changed our name. Effective Jan. 11, we became the San Francisco Travel Association. We are no longer the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Based on extensive research and collaboration with our board of directors, there were lots of reasons for the change.

We turned 100 years old in 2009. We saw this as a singular opportunity to evaluate everything we have done, all that we are currently doing and all that we hope to do — whether that is working to create the most efficient and effective sales organization in the industry, or realigning our team to best deliver on our overall strategy.

Technology has made information free, so what used to be proprietary is now widely available. As a result, convention bureaus across the country are changing their names and the way they do business to reflect the evolution in how customers and visitors search for, receive and share information.

It is no longer enough to be an “expert.” We need to be curators as well, sourcing the best solutions for our customers and sharing the “best of San Francisco” in all its delightful complexity.

The word “bureau” implies “bureaucratic,” and that is not how we work, or how we think — not that we ever did, but you get my point.

Matt Stiker, our executive vice president and chief marketing officer, does a great job of articulating what this new (old) organization has the potential to become: “The key points driving the name change were ensuring and protecting the organization’s future relevance in a changing world, while also communicating our curatorial perspective and unique point of view. The name San Francisco Travel means that we are about every aspect of traveling to San Francisco. Whether it’s leisure travel, meetings and conventions, group tours, domestic or international, editorial or viral, we’ve got a hand in making it happen.”

The name change is just a small part of a larger reorganization and shift in the way we do business. We are making improvements to the Visitor Information Center at Hallidie Plaza where some 350,000 people are assisted annually.

And do not be surprised if you see visitor info “pop-ups” around San Francisco. Our website, which already draws more than 3 million visitors annually, will be completely transformed in the spring. Our social media channels will be ramping up, and significant improvements to Moscone Center are already under way. If you would like to learn a little more about San Francisco Travel, I encourage you to visit our website, www.sanfrancisco.travel/whychange.

Here is to new beginnings. And I will be keeping my lucky rabbit’s foot handy.

Joe D’Alessandro is the president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, one of the largest membership-based tourism-promotion agencies in the country.

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