Ailing tourism industry ready to take new path 

The City’s Convention and Visitors Bureau this week will unveil a more well-funded and aggressive marketing campaign for the next four years that’s designed to regain visitors lost due to the recession.

San Francisco’s leading industry has suffered fewer tourists spending less money, hotel worker strikes and a pending ballot measure that could raise hotel taxes even higher.

In 2009, San Francisco had 15.4 million visitors, a 5.8 percent decrease from 2008. Visitors spent $7.8 billion in 2009, a decrease of 7.8 percent from the previous year, according to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Hotel officials say The City has lost more than $5 million since a union started calling for boycotts at hotels nearly two years ago.

The bureau plans to tackle these issues with a long-term plan outlining how best to maintain a thriving tourism industry. It will discuss the plan at its luncheon today to mark its 100-year anniversary. The event will feature speakers including Mayor Gavin Newsom, who will talk about the future of San Francisco as a destination city.

Newsom has come out against a proposed hotel tax increase from 14 to 16 percent on each night’s stay, saying raising taxes in a down economy is shortsighted. An economic analysis from the City Controller’s Office confirmed a hotel tax increase would dampen tourism.

This year, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has an extra $20 million from the Tourism Improvement District created last year.

The district gets 1.5 percent of all hotel taxes, which has helped generate much-needed money for marketing San Francisco during one of the worst recessions in history, said Toni Knorr, general manager at the St. Regis Hotel.

Knorr, who’s also the incoming chair of the bureau’s board of directors, said that money will be spent on keeping pace with technological advancements that will help the bureau better sell San Francisco to tourists. That includes the next wave of personal mobile devices, which is how many travelers are booking their vacations now.

“We are voted the world’s No. 1 or No. 2 destination for travelers,” Knorr said. “We have a little bit of a reputation for some of the troubling issues of homelessness and cleanliness of The City, and we are expensive and getting more expensive by the looks of it.”

Another issue the bureau must grapple with is the decline in international travel, said Dan Goldes, strategic adviser to the organization. While the U.S. might be bouncing back from a recession, San Francisco’s economy still relies heavily on international travelers, and the current European fiscal crisis isn’t helping.

“The United Kingdom is our No. 1 [source of] inbound travelers,” Goldes said. “We need to present a compelling case to come to San Francisco. That’s a challenge.”

Taking trip to The City


$426 million: Tax revenue from visitors
19.2 percent: Decline from 2008
66,837: Jobs related to tourism industry
125,407: Average monthly visitors
$21.5 million: Average daily dollars spent by tourists

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Erin Sherbert

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