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Small corporate events held outside the sprawling Moscone Center exhibition complex thrived last year. With China still frozen out, San Francisco's tourism marketers want to push this type of business even further in the coming years.

The San Francisco Travel Association is working more closely with the city’s hotels to promote smaller meetings and events.

The association, which is the official destination marketing organization for the city and county of San Francisco, said this week that it noted 75 percent of group room nights booked in 2022 were for events outside of the city’s big convention spot, the Moscone Center. It will now target these types of smaller group events with shorter booking windows, as it expands efforts to attract international group business.

“Given that associations book conferences several years out, our strategy for 2024 is to secure more corporate events, likely taking place in hotels because of their smaller size, to support the hospitality, event, and tourism businesses in the city,” said Nicole Rogers, San Francisco Travel’s executive vice president and chief sales officer.

However, large events returned at scale last year. The Moscone Center exhibition complex hosted 33 events in 2022 compared to five following its reopening in September 2021. The were 347,788 hotel rooms booked by attendees of those events in 2022, which was a 1,933 percent leap on the prior year.

Hotel room nights associated with Moscone Center events are set to almost double in 2023 to 673,000. So far 35 events have been confirmed for the center this year. The association also expanded its convention sales and event services department from 12 people in 2021 to 23 this year.

Tourism bodies across the globe seem to be rethinking their priorities right now — notable overhauls include Amsterdam and its (in)famous red light district, while Rome is thinking big for 2023 and beyond. (See Skift’s recent reporting on VisitBritain and Hawaii too )

Asia Missions

With its former top market China still out of the frame, the association will visit Japan and Korea on tourism and PR missions in April. Trade shows globally have been boosted by strong Asian interest.

“A focus on these markets is of particular importance given that China continues to lag,” the association said.

China was San Francisco’s top overseas market prior to the pandemic, and it blamed geopolitical reasons and “prevailing bilateral government restrictions that hamper the resumption of air service.” The airport expects to return to 2019’s 58-million-annual-passenger-levels of traffic between 2025 and 2026.

As well its future strategy, the San Francisco Travel Association revealed its 2022 results this week. Visitor arrivals grew nearly a third to 21.9 million, including a 211 percent increase in international visitation. Visitor spending doubled year-on-year to $7.4 billion, producing $522 million in tourism-generated fees and tax revenues for the city.

Visitor arrivals this year are expected to reach 23.9 million, and 2023 visitor spending is expected to grow to $8.7 billion.

“San Francisco is not yet reaching pre-pandemic numbers as anticipated, but we expect to see further growth this year, especially as we begin to welcome back more travelers from Asia,” said Joe D’Alessandro, San Francisco Travel’s president and CEO. “With the return of flight routes to San Francisco International Airport from cities across Asia and an ease on testing requirements, we should see increases in international visitation and spending.”

A brand campaign involves the return of the “Always San Francisco” slogan, and it’s due to launch in May. The $6 million campaign will be complemented by other marketing programs, including one with Expedia.

Tourism is one of the largest sectors for job creation for San Francisco.

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Tags: business travel, china, corporate travel, meetings and events, san francisco, sfo

Photo credit: Tourism is one of the largest sectors for job creation for San Francisco. Tyler Casey / Unsplash

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