Press. Related Links.

Latest News

San Francisco Travel Association releases economic impact figures for 2010 and results of year-long Visitor Profile Research

Visitors to San Francisco up 3.1%. Visitor spending up 6.2% from 2009

March 22, 2011 – The San Francisco Travel Association released the results of its year-long Visitor Profile Research and its annual estimate of the economic impact of the tourism industry in San Francisco. The data was presented during the sixth annual Northern California Visitor Industry Outlook & Marketing Conference today at the Hyatt Regency.

In 2010, San Francisco welcomed 15.92 million visitors, an increase of 3.1 percent from 2009. These visitors spent $8.34 billion in 2010, up 6.2 percent from the previous year.

The tourism industry generated $485 million in taxes for the City of San Francisco, up 4 percent from the previous year. Tourism supported 67,122 jobs in 2010 with an annual payroll of $1.88 billion. In 2010, there was an average of 126,931 visitors in San Francisco each day. Visitor spending equated to $22.84 million daily (including spending related to meetings and conventions).

“This data is good news after the economic challenges of the past few years,” said Joe D'Alessandro, San Francisco Travel president and CEO. "But we have a long way to go to return to and surpass the levels of years past.”

Among the things that will keep the momentum going for San Francisco’s tourism industry is the arrival of International Pow Wow, coming to San Francisco on May 21-25. Known worldwide in the travel industry as the major marketplace for transacting inbound U.S. travel business, International Pow Wow is expected to generate more than $350 million in tourism for San Francisco in the short term alone. More than 1,100 international and domestic tour operators from 70 countries will “shop” the largest travel industry trade show in North America inside Moscone Center, meeting in 70,000 pre-set appointments with some 3,500 exhibitors from every corner of the U.S. More than 400 international and domestic travel journalists will also attend to report on the event and the destination. There will be three evenings of exclusive events for the attendees, plus one night open for private parties.

To help keep San Francisco’s message in front of the leisure travelers that make up 54% of the total visitors (vacationer and weekend getaways combined), San Francisco Travel works with strategic partners including American Express, Levi’s, and Acura to develop integrated marketing campaigns to increase visitation to San Francisco and enhance visitor engagement in market. In the late spring, San Francisco Travel will launch its new brand in a co-operative leisure marketing campaign highlighting the city’s arts and culture assets. The campaign will target cultural travelers in key feeder markets to drive visitation during the summer months, and will feature arts and culture institutional partners that will include both museums and the performing arts.

San Francisco Travel continues its marketing efforts targeting gay and lesbian (LGBT) travelers, a key visitor segment for San Francisco. A 2010 survey by Community Marketing, Inc. shows San Francisco to be the #2 overall destination in America for LGBT travelers. San Francisco Travel’s campaign is in its fourth year, with a dedicated microsite that includes “Out with the Locals,” a section featuring San Francisco residents who provide “insider tips” on what to see and do in San Francisco. Here Media, American Express and Kimpton Hotels are official sponsors of the campaign.

Dine About Town, the annual restaurant promotion developed by San Francisco Travel Association, is celebrating its 10th year in 2011. The program generates an estimated $3 million in additional revenue to the city’s restaurants. The second half of the 2011 program will take place June 1-15. Over 100 restaurants are participating, eleven of whom have participated since the program’s inception in 2002.

“The initiative we built with Acura to dovetail onto our January Dine About Town program - targeted at foodies, one of Acura’s key audience segments that we have a unique ability to reach - brought upwards of 280 million paid and unpaid media impressions to the effort, and to the amazing gastro experience of San Francisco,” said Matt Stiker, San Francisco Travel executive vice president/chief marketing officer.

As of mid-year, San Francisco Travel’s convention bookings for future years was 109% of goal pace, the results of increasing demand for meetings combined with refined sales strategies by the San Francisco Travel team.

Over the past year, San Francisco Travel has been conducting the most comprehensive visitor profile research in the organization’s history, designed to gather detailed information on visitor spending, trip characteristics, use of travel planning resources, activities and attractions visited, evaluation of San Francisco brand attributes, visitor expectations and satisfaction and visitor psychographic and demographic profiling. Through interviews with visitors conducted around the city, a written survey of hotel guests distributed upon check out and a computer-based survey of guests at San Francisco Travel’s Visitor Information Center (offered in six languages), more than 1.4 million data points were analyzed. This three-pronged approached ensured that the survey properly weighted responses of leisure travelers, convention attendees, Bay Area day-trippers, international visitors and other segments.

“This is the first time the organization has combined three important groups in one comprehensive survey: hotel guests, visitors on the street, and users of the San Francisco Visitor Information Center,” D’Alessandro said. “The results show that, not surprisingly, San Francisco remains a strong leisure travel destination, drawing visitors from as near-by as the Bay Area and as far away as the U.K., Germany and Australia. While they visit the traditional pockets of Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, they also venture into other neighborhoods, such as SOMA and the Castro. They are most awed by the city’s ambience and atmosphere and are most bothered by homelessness and panhandling.”

The following is a brief summary of this study’s findings:

Reason for visiting San Francisco. Survey respondents were asked to categorize their primary reason for their trip to San Francisco. Overall, leisure purposes represented 75.4 percent of trips to San Francisco in 2010, with convention/group meeting (7.1%), business (10.6%) and government travel (0.6%) comprising 18.3 percent of trips in total. When looking only at hotel guests, convention delegates account for about 30% of San Francisco’s market mix. The single largest group of respondents said they were visiting the city on a “vacation” (44.6%), with approximately one in ten saying they were visiting on a “getaway weekend” (9.6%). The second most significant proportion of San Francisco’s visitor market was comprised of Bay Area residents traveling to the city for personal leisure (21.2%).

Use of Moscone Center. Of those visiting San Francisco to attend a convention or group meeting (7.1% of visitors), 53.1 percent were part of a group that utilized Moscone Center.

Place of Stay in San Francisco. San Francisco visitors are largely hotel guests. 60.7 percent of those who visited San Francisco in 2010 stayed in one of the city’s hotels, motels, inns or hostels. The “visiting friends and relatives”

(VFR) market accounted for 14.2 percent of visitor traffic, with 9.3 percent staying with a San Francisco resident and 4.9 percent staying with friends or relatives residing outside San Francisco and taking a day trip(s) into the city.

Length of Stay in San Francisco. Given the significant proportion on a “vacation” or other leisure trip, over half (51.6%) of visitors stayed four or more nights in San Francisco. About one in five stayed two (17.7%) or three

(21.8%) nights, while just 8.9 percent stayed only one night. San Francisco visitors stayed an average of 4.5 nights in the city.

Method of Arrival in San Francisco. While San Francisco visitors can—and do—arrive in the city by a variety of methods, airlines are quite clearly a popular means of traveling to San Francisco. During 2010, twice as many visitors arrived in San Francisco by air (58.0%) than automobile (28.1%), which was the second most common transportation mode. Relatively few visitors arrived via other forms of transportation.

Airport Used. Those that arrived by air were asked which local airport they flew into. Nine in ten of these air travelers used San Francisco International (SFO). Other airports in the region were used by smaller proportions of San Francisco visitors for accessing the city. 5.2 percent flew into Oakland International while 1.3 percent used San Jose International.

Transportation Methods Utilized while in San Francisco. Survey respondents were asked to indicate the modes of transportation they used (or planned to use) while in San Francisco. Four in ten report taking taxis while in the city (38.1%). Other automobile options are popular amongst San Francisco visitors, with 35.1 percent using a personal car and 14.6 percent using a rental car. Additionally, the city’s public transportation options are being utilized by important shares of visitors. Over one quarter (27.6%) rode the cable cars, while 22.9 percent took MUNI trains and/or buses and 18.3 percent rode the F-Line street cars. One in four used BART (26.7%).

First Visit to San Francisco. San Francisco inspires repeat patronage amongst its visitors. Three quarters (74.3%) of San Francisco’s visitors have previously been to the city.

Activities in San Francisco. San Francisco’s visitors clearly partake in many and varied activities during their time in the city. The survey asked respondents to identify from a list of activities those they participated in while in San Francisco. The most common activities were dining in restaurants (90.8%), shopping (69.6%), visiting museums (42.7%) and riding the cable cars (38.7%).

Spending in San Francisco. Spending varied by type of visitor. When viewed as a group, hotel guests spent $240 per person per day while those attending meetings spent $265 per person per day. Visitors staying with friends and relatives spent $114 and Bay Area day visitors spent $109 per person per day. International visitors and people interviewed at the Visitor Information Center spent the same, $213 per person per day.

Important Factors in Visiting San Francisco. Why do visitors choose to visit San Francisco? This research attempted to shed light on this question by asking respondents to identify those aspects that were important to their decision to make their visit to the city. The principal factors of importance are to experience the city’s overall ambiance, atmosphere (47.7%) and scenic beauty (41.7%), and to enjoy San Francisco’s restaurants
and cuisine (30.7%).

Neighborhoods Visited. One goal of the survey was to look into which neighborhoods tourists visit in the city, as well as which areas they specifically shop and dine. The most frequently visited neighborhoods (for any reason) are Union Square (65.2%) and Fisherman’s Wharf (56.0%), followed by Chinatown (38.4%), the Embarcadero Center/Ferry Building area (37.9%) and North Beach (31.7%). Many neighborhoods in San Francisco receive visitor traffic, however, including Civic Center, the Marina, SOMA, the Castro, the Sunset and the Richmond. The typical San Francisco visitor went to 3.9 of these neighborhoods during their visit to the city.

Attractions Visited. The area attractions most frequented by San Francisco visitors in 2010 were PIER 39 (49.9%), the Golden Gate Bridge (43.6%) and Golden Gate Park (34.6%).

Planning Resources Used Before Arrival in San Francisco. San Francisco’s visitors rely heavily on the Internet for their pre-arrival trip planning. When asked which travel planning resources they used prior to arrival, (other) websites (45.0%) and Online Travel Agencies, such as Travelocity, Orbitz and Expedia, (40.9%) were most commonly cited.

Planning Resources Used After Arrival in San Francisco. After arrival in San Francisco, the most commonly used travel planning resources are websites (17.0%), opinions of friends/relatives (16.5%), free travel guide books (14.7%), and commercial guide books (13.1%).

Use of San Francisco Visitor Information Center. During 2010, 18.3 percent of San Francisco visitors went to the San Francisco Visitor Information Center while in the city.

Most Liked About San Francisco. Survey respondents were presented an open-ended question asking them to state what they liked most about San Francisco. San Francisco’s overall ambiance and atmosphere (18.6%) and scenic beauty (18.3%) are the “most liked” attributes of San Francisco, reflecting the top “important 13 reasons” visitors choose to travel to the city. San Francisco’s visitors also most like the city’s arts, culture and museums (12.0%), as well as its food and cuisine (11.9%).

Least Liked About San Francisco. Survey respondents were presented a similar open-ended question about what they liked least about San Francisco. Homelessness/panhandling was the most common complaint by
far, mentioned by one in four survey respondents (25.4%). Cold, windy weather (10.1%) and traffic or other transit issues (10.0%) were the next least liked attributes of San Francisco, each cited by one in ten respondents.

Willingness to Return to San Francisco. As demonstrated by the volume of repeat visitors to the city, San Francisco provides an experience that visitors would like to have again. 98.3 percent of survey respondents said that they would return to the city.

Point of Origin: Domestic vs. International. In 2010, 70.2 percent of San Francisco visitors were of domestic origin
and the remainder (29.8%) was from other countries.

Feeder Markets, Top Metropolitan Areas. The city’s top domestic feeder markets (by percent of domestic visitors) are the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (26.4%), Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana (4.7%), New York-

Northern New Jersey-Long Island (2.8%), Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto (2.7%), and Washington, DC-Northern Virginia-Southern Maryland-West Virginia (2.3%) Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

Feeder Markets, International. The top international feeder markets (by country) are Canada (11.9%), the U.K. (11.6%), Australia (8.0%) and Germany (7.0%).

Age. San Francisco visitors span a wide spectrum of ages. Over half of visitors are under 45 years of age (54.2%). The average age of visitors was 41.4 years old.

Annual Household Income. San Francisco visitors are an affluent group, with an average annual household income of $98,591.

Marital Status. Over half of San Francisco’s visitors are married or in domestic partnerships (60.5%). Approximately 15 percent have children under age 18.

Ethnicity. While the majority of San Francisco visitors are Caucasian (68.6%), important proportions are Asian-Pacific Islander (10.5%) and African-American (5.8%).

Sexual Orientation. LGBT is represented by approximately 5 percent of San Francisco’s visitors surveyed.

The Executive Summary of the research report is available on the San Francisco Travel website. Go to and click on “Statistics and Research.” The complete report is available exclusively to member/partners of San Francisco Travel.

< Back to news list