Mar 24, 2023 - News

San Francisco tourism is steadily recovering

Data: San Francisco Travel Association; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: San Francisco Travel Association; Chart: Axios Visuals

San Francisco tourism is on the rise but still not back to where it was before the pandemic hit.

What's happening: Tourism is down about 16% from 2019, when a record 26.2 million people visited the city, according to recent data from the San Francisco Travel Association.

  • Yes, but: Visitors to San Francisco increased from 17 million in 2021 to 21.9 million last year.
  • The growth was primarily fueled by international leisure travelers and corporate events, like the 33 conferences at Moscone Center, Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of SFTA, said in a press release.

Why it matters: Tourism is key to helping boost the city's revenues, which have suffered amid the pandemic. But downtown San Francisco has yet to fully recover from the impact of pandemic-related office and business shutdowns.

  • In fact, San Francisco has the slowest downtown recovery of the 62 largest cities across the U.S. and Canada, according to an analysis from the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.

By the numbers: Visitors to the city spent $7.4 billion last year, up from nearly $3.6 billion in 2021.

  • Tourism generated $522 million in taxes and other fees for San Francisco last year, compared to just $257 million the year before.

What they're saying: D'Alessandro said that with the loosening of pandemic restrictions like testing requirements, and the return of flight routes from cities across Asia, "we should see increases in international visitation and spending."

  • In 2019, San Francisco International Airport had 34 weekly nonstop flights to mainland China, the San Francisco Standard reports. Currently, there are just four. It's unclear when that number will increase.

Between the lines: Mayor London Breed in February announced her "Roadmap to Downtown San Francisco's Future," outlining her desire to designate downtown as an arts and cultural zone to help bring more nightlife and entertainment to the area.

  • In a tweet commenting on the latest travel data, Breed said, "Tourism is coming back to San Francisco."

What to watch: SFTA anticipates the city will welcome 23.9 million visitors this year, with visitor spending expected to hit $8.7 billion.


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