By Laura Del Rosso
SAN FRANCISCO -- This city's tourism industry is flourishing
this year, leading to warnings that travelers who want to stay in a
particular hotels during peak periods this fall should plan early
and expect higher room rates than last year.
There are longer lines than usual for the cable cars, and
streets along Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf are packed with
visitors from all over the world. Behind the surge in arrivals is a
booming high-tech economy that is drawing more business travelers
to San Francisco -- and a steady growth of leisure travelers, both
domestic and international.
Hoteliers are enjoying some of the highest occupancies and room
rates they have ever seen. "People should plan early and bring full
wallets," said David Lewin, director of sales and marketing for the
Hyatt Regency, San Francisco. The Hyatt Regency sold out its entire
805-room inventory for 13 nights in July and 16 nights in
More sold-out periods are to come, hoteliers said, with
September and October peak convention months. From Sept. 29 through
Oct. 3, the city will host Seybold Seminars, expected to attract
50,000 people and Oct. 26-30 the American Academy of Opthamology,
with an expected 23,000. San Francisco already played host to one
major convention this year, the American Bar Association, which
drew 25,000 delegates in July and helped boost an already high
Corey Limbach, a vice president with the hotel accounting firm
Pannell Kerr and Forster, said San Francisco has experienced
"several years of gradual build up of hotel rates and occupancies"
and, with no new construction of hotels taking place, demand will
continue to put pressure on supply. "San Francisco is extremely
strong right now," Limbach said. "Occupancies are 4% higher than
last year and room rates are 12% higher."
Limbach said that, with the busiest months of September and
October yet to come, San Francisco should end the year with a
"healthy growth in occupancies and rates 12% to 15% higher."
Limbach added, "There are no drops on the horizon."
San Francisco in the 1980s and early 1990s lagged behind hotels
in high-priced East Coast cities such as New York, Boston and
Washington, D.C., with room rates that have typically been lower
than in those cities, Limbach said. The rates are still lower, but
are catching up, he said.
However, several new hotels are in the blueprint stage and may
be ready for guests in the next five years, providing San Francisco
with more hotel inventory and perhaps giving visitors some relief
on escalating rates. Starwood Lodging is building a property near
Moscone Center and Omni Hotels is in discussion to construct a
hotel within an existing Financial District office tower. In
addition, Four Seasons is considering becoming part of a mixed-use
redevelopment project near Moscone Center, next to the Marriott
Hotel. It would be Four Seasons' re-entry into San Francisco after
a change of ownership at the Clift Hotel ended its long-time
management contract there.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau said
the popularity of the city should not deter prospective visitors.
"This year is strong, but there are still plenty of rooms
available" for those who do not require to stay in the most popular
hotels in the most popular areas, such as Fisherman's Wharf, and
who make their arrangements plenty of time in advance, a