Visitor center grows to boost tourism 

The state’s visitor center at Pier 39, which offers guidance to tourists, has tripled in size in an effort to bolster San Francisco’s No. 1 industry — tourism.

The grand reopening of the California Welcome Center, moved closer to the front of the sightseeing mecca, could make it potentially the most visited among 16 similar centers in the state. About 200,000 visitors stopped by its smaller, less visible venue last year, center spokeswoman Lisa Jackson said.

“It offers the same things most other tourist booths on the pier do, but more we’re here to promote all aspects of the state. We try and obviously focus on the Bay Area, on top of people planning trips,” Jackson said.

Usually, The City’s center on the pier competes with Pismo Beach’s for the most visited in the state.

And the center has found its niche in a city that attracts about 16.4 million tourists a year, who on average spent $21.5 million every day in 2009.

Most of its advertisements are for mainstream hotels and stores, such as the Marriott, shopping in Union Square and eating at the Cheesecake Factory. One of the site’s frequently asked questions: “Where can I get a Pier 39 Limited Edition Coke Bottle?”

“Anybody that wants to come advertise ... we usually let them as long as it’s suitable and it’s relevant,” Jackson said.

Pier 39 estimates it gets about 10 million visitors a year.

However, smaller, more local businesses such as the bar Vesuvio or Caffe Trieste don’t participate, among others.

“We’re not the place to go get the plastic cable cars,” said Kathleen Dooley, president of the North Beach Merchants Association. “We pretty much market to boutique hotels that would appreciate what we offer.”

Aside from triple the advertising space for big-time city and state names, the new center will have something most other tourist shops do not: a chance for tourists to send off their souvenirs to their friends and family so they don’t have to take them back on an airplane.

The center has partnered with the U.S. Postal Service so gifts can be packaged and sent from there, Jackson said.

The center is about a decade old. Other center locations are in Oxnard, Oceanside and Arcata.

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Kamala Kelkar

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