Marriott International’s Area General Manager John Kimball speaking at the SF Travel Marketing Conference. 
Last week we wrapped up a marketing conference by one of our valued sponsors, SF Travel! The event, held at Mission Bay’s Conference Center on UCSF’s beautiful campus, gathered leaders in the local hospitality industry to discuss the current state of travel and tourism to San Francisco as well as the latest trends. 

Though 2019 was another record-breaking year, the fear of limited growth was high due to the coronavirus and looming travel restrictions. But the good news is that many organizations are responding to the imminent threat by having plans in place so once the fears subside, the rebound will be quick and effective.  

The SF Travel Marketing Conference was held at the esteemed Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF. 

The Coronavirus Affecting the Travel & Hospitality Industry

Topic of the day was how the coronavirus is affecting local areas, travel, tourism, and how the city is operating.
City officials Joaquin Torres, Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and Mary Ellen Carroll, Executive Director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management spoke about how the City and Mayor London Breed is responding to the possibility of an epidemic with an Emergency Declaration.
Even though there has been zero cases of the virus in San Francisco, the declaration is mainly a “tool to martial resources to prepare and accelerate planning” in case the virus does hit the City.
It’s important to note the impact that the coronavirus is having on travel and events in San Francisco since the City is a hub for large conferences that bring in visitors from around the world. Even though Torres and Carrol maintain that San Francisco is still open for business, several conferences have already dropped out such as Facebook’s F8, the Game Developers Conference, and most recently Google’s Cloud Next.
Humphrey Ho (top) and Joe D’Alessandro (bottom) discuss the effects of COVID-19.
Later on in the conference, Humphrey Ho, managing partner of SF Travel’s consulting partner on China, Hylink Digital Solutions, spoke about how travel from China to the United States and San Francisco in particular is such a large piece of the hospitality industry. Especially considering centennials have how become a new demographic of visitors from China to the US, and SFO being one of the main West Coast gateways, they look to focus their efforts in growing this area.
And while they’re currently at a standstill, it is likely to bounce back in a huge way as early as spring once travel restrictions are lifted and COVID-19’s spread is more manageable. Ho refers to the rise in China’s social media content that reflects a pent-up demand to travel due to the lack of mobility in recent weeks. 
Presenters discuss local events that impact travel into San Francisco.

San Francisco Remains A Top Travel Destination

Despite coronavirus fears, the speakers urged optimism. They revealed that though the coronavirus will impact conventions and vacation travelers in 2020, 2021 is expected to be strong. With the hope that summer and fall travel from China will be heavy as the pent-up demand to travel could be released after the coronavirus spread lowers. 
Statistics show improvement every year in key metrics – with San Francisco being just behind New York and Los Angeles as the top destinations within the United States for international travelers. This shows that the city’s “destination appeal” has remained strong, with Fishermans Wharf and Union Square as the most popular landmarks to visit. Respondents to surveys also described the weather and diverse culture as the most liked aspects of the City. And over 97% of visitors saying they would return. The speakers also highlighted optimism in cannabis tourism as up to 70% of dispensary visitors are tourists. 
The outlook for sports in San Francisco this decade is also strong as Rory Davis, Sr. Manager of SF Travel’s Sports & Entertainment Sales revealed the SF Bay Area to be the Sports City of Decade by the Sports Business Journal. He also cites several high-profile events such as US Women’s Open, NCAA Men’s Basketball Regionals, SailGP, the PGA Championship, and possibly even the 2026 FIFA World Cup coming to the city over the next several years. 

Traffic and homelessness as top issues for visitors

Of course the visitor experience is not all positive. Surveys of travelers and hotel guests show that 26% of respondents listed traffic and parking as the least liked aspects on the city while 23.7% cited homelessness. These are key factors that affect the decisions of large conferences choosing San Francisco as their host city
Local officials are recognizing this trend and are addressing the situation with their 2020 public policy focus by introducing the Clean Safe 365 campaign. The goal of this initiative is to”cleaner, safer streets that encourage, rather than hinder, the prosperity and wellbeing of citizens”. And they plan to do this by providing supportive services for those struggling with mental health and drug-related issues. increasing foot beat patrols, expanding the EMS and community paramedic program, and increasing recruitment for police.  
In addition, the City has enacted the Downtown Streets Program which provide homeless or close to homeless people jobs in exchange for services such as street cleaning. The hope is that they can use these benefits to help lift them out of their situation while also gaining dignity through the work they’re doing.