S.F. Looks Ahead to the Holidays

City’s CVB, attractions slate special incentives to lure fall, winter visitors

By: David Peterkofsky

Travel-related businesses in San Francisco are hoping to put their recent misfortunes in the past by rolling out promotions for the fall and winter months designed to pack the cable cars with tourists once again.

“We’re coming off 18 really lousy months,” said Laurie Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, at a recent breakfast event showcasing the city’s plans for the holiday season.

Armstrong said the city’s woes began in early 2001, with the state’s energy crisis and the dot-com collapse taking their toll on tourism. Sept. 11 and a lack of confidence in the stock market only made matters worse.

Recent statistics illustrate Armstrong’s observations. In June, about 3 million passengers arrived or departed from San Francisco International Airport, down 14% from the same month in 2001. And the city’s hotel occupancy from January through June came in at 62.4%, compared with 72.6% for the first six months of last year.

Since early last year, the city has seen a mixed bag of overseas arrivals. The U.K. inbound market remains strong, while Asia is down considerably. And because 80% of visitors to San Francisco arrive by air, Armstrong noted, the SFCVB changed its marketing focus to regional travelers within 10 hours’ driving time of San Francisco.

Armstrong said that the city’s convention business remains strong and will get a boost when a new wing of the Moscone Center opens next year, and she remains confident that leisure travel will bounce back, though it may take longer.

“It’s going to come back slowly,” Armstrong said of leisure business. “There will be setbacks along the way ... but this [downturn] has made us better marketers.”

In their efforts to jump-start the leisure comeback, several San Francisco hotels and attractions unveiled promotions and new developments set for the fall and the winter holidays. Among them:

"The Argent Hotel’s Holiday Shopping package includes free parking at the hotel and free town-car service to and from the city’s top shopping areas for $159 per night, weekends only. Web site: www.argenthotel.com.

"The San Francisco Ferry Building, located at the base of Market Street on the Embarcadero, will reopen March 21 with a ground-floor market and culinary center featuring nearly 50 shops, two restaurants and two cafes. Web site: www.sfport.com.

"Macy’s annual holiday tree-lighting ceremony returns to the newly redesigned Union Square on Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. The same day, Macy’s unveils its famous holiday windows, along the store’s Stockton and O’Farrell street facades.