Nov 7, 2023 - News

SFO nears pre-pandemic international travel levels

Baggage claim area at the San Francisco International Airport in 2023. Photo: Megan Rose Dickey/Axios

Amid the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in San Francisco and the return of airlines from China, international travel at the San Francisco International Airport is on track to return to its pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year, according to the mayor's office.

Why it matters: Tourism is key to helping boost the city's revenues, and International travel is a major part of San Francisco's tourism industry, in part due to the length of time such travelers stay in the city and the money they spend, according to SF Travel.

What's happening: The number of international flights at SFO is at 97% of what it was in 2019, with predictions for that to hit 100% by the end of December.

  • That is in part due to both the recent and expected return of Chinese airlines, including Air China, China Eastern and China Southern.
  • Air China resumed nonstop flights between Beijing and San Francisco last week, while China Southern plans to resume nonstop flights to Wuhan on Nov. 11.

What they're saying: "The addition of new airline routes and increased number of international flights, especially those catering to Asian travelers, is a huge step forward in our path to recovery," Joe D'Allesandro, president of San Francisco Travel, said in a press release.

Between the lines: San Francisco is gearing up to host more than 20,000 people from all over the world as part of APEC beginning this weekend.

  • The event, focused on promoting free trade throughout the Asia Pacific region, will bring together world leaders including President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
  • City officials say it will be the largest gathering of world leaders since the signing of the UN Charter in 1945.

What they're saying: With APEC taking center stage in the city this weekend and next week, "we know the eyes of the world will be on San Francisco," Mayor London Breed said in a press release, noting that the return of Chinese airlines "is a great moment" for the city and its economy.

By the numbers: Nearly 2 million international visitors are projected to spend $4.2 billion in the city this year, according to SF Travel.

  • Of note: These figures are still below pre-pandemic levels in 2019, when a record 2.9 million international travelers visited San Francisco, spending $5.1 billion, according to SF Travel.

What to watch: Two additional international airlines, Starlux and Porter, are slated to begin service in December and January, respectively.

  • Starlux offers flights to Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and Macau, while Porter services North America, including Canada.

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