After reports last week that a medical association decided
not to host its annual convention in San Francisco due to the city's homeless
crisis, Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran spoke with Joe D'Alessandro, president
and CEO of the city's tourism marketing association San Francisco Travel,
about how the city plans to tackle homelessness, drug use on the streets and
cleanliness (or lack thereof), all of which have threatened to compromise San
Francisco's robust tourism industry.
Q: Last week, news emerged that a major medical association
decided to pull its annual convention from San Francisco. Why did they decide
to do so?
A: For clarification, they didn't actually pull or cancel
the convention. We were just one of their finalist cities, and they chose to go
somewhere else. And they actually have two upcoming years that they're already
booked in San Francisco. The group itself does not want to release their name,
so I want to respect that. But when they gave us their reasons for choosing
another city, their main issues were cost, that it was expensive in San
Francisco, and also they said that the condition of the streets was not what
they had hoped to see. And we understand that we do have an issue on our
streets in San Francisco with a variety of different things -- with the
increasing number of homeless people that you see physically, which is not just
a San Francisco problem, it's a problem that most large American cities,
especially on the West Coast, are facing. And it's an issue that we're trying
to work on. We feel that we'll see some substantial changes in the near future.
Q: In a CBS report earlier this year, you stated that the
most common negative tourists cite about San Francisco is the condition of the
city's streets: aggressive panhandling, encampments and dirt and trash. How
much is that perception impacting San Francisco as a destination?
A: We're concerned about any sort of negative perception and
how it impacts our brand, how it impacts the desirability to visit San
Francisco. But so far, we haven't seen any quantifiable impact. Our occupancy
is at an all-time high. The number of visitors to San Francisco has never been
this high. So the numbers are showing that people still love to come to San
Francisco. When we do our visitor surveys, which we do on a regular basis, 94%
of all visitors to San Francisco say that they want to return, which we believe
is one of the highest satisfaction rates in the industry. All that being said,
we don't want any sort of negative impression of San Francisco being out there.
So we are working quite aggressively with the city and with the private sector
to be creative in problem solving.
Q: How big is San Francisco's homeless problem?
A: The numbers in San Francisco are about 7,000 homeless.
And that is pretty much the way it's been for the last 20 years or so. The
economy is so strong. It's kind of the envy of the world. And it's bringing a
lot of people in for jobs, but it's also pushing people out who may not have
the same opportunity and may not have the same income to live in San Francisco.
So that is a big concern. That's why the need to find housing for people has
become such a priority for us.
Q: Are you seeing any impact on inbound international travel
due to Trump administration policies that might be viewed by some as
A: Anytime people around the world have some concern about
whether they should take a trip to the United States, it is a concern for us.
It's a concern for the entire country. We want America to be the most desirable
place to visit in the world. And we have been, for a very long time, to lots of
people in the world, and we don't want that damaged. So our messaging to potential
visitors is that San Francisco has always been welcoming.