San Francisco tourism means big numbers, bigger dollars 

It’s one of the more memorable film scenes from the 1990s. Cuba Gooding, in his role as football player Rod Tidwell, is unhappy with his contract. Testing the mettle of his agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) in spectacular fashion, Tidwell finally exclaims, “Show me the money!”

To citizens and investors in the San Francisco travel product, I’d say: “Show me the numbers.”

That’s what the San Francisco Travel Association recently did when the results of a year-long visitor profile study were released, along with our annual estimate of the economic impact of the tourism industry.

In 2010, San Francisco welcomed 15.92 million visitors, an increase of 3.1 percent from 2009. These visitors spent $8.34 billion in 2010, up 6.2 percent from the previous year.

The tourism industry generated $485 million in taxes for San Francisco, up 4 percent from the previous year.  Tourism supported 67,122 jobs in 2010 with an annual payroll of $1.88 billion. In 2010, there were an average of 126,931 visitors in San Francisco each day. Visitor spending equated to $22.84 million daily, including spending related to meetings and conventions.

An astounding 98.3 percent of survey respondents said that they would return to San Francisco.

 Our visitors also ranged far and wide throughout our city. The most frequently visited neighborhoods are Union Square (65.2 percent) and Fisherman’s Wharf (56 percent), followed by Chinatown (38.4 percent), the Embarcadero Center/Ferry Building area (37.9 percent) and North Beach (31.7 percent).

Survey respondents were presented an open-ended question about what they liked least about San Francisco. Homelessness/panhandling was the most common complaint by far, mentioned by one in four survey respondents (25.4 percent). Cold, windy weather (10.1 percent) — which we can’t do much about — and traffic or other transit issues (10 percent) were the next least liked attributes of San Francisco.

I find it interesting that the number one negative issue about our city that most troubles both residents and visitors alike is aggressive panhandling and homelessness. Until we find real, long-term solutions to these problems, we may never realize our true economic potential.

Joe D’ Alessandro is president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.

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