Sluggish economy causes 8% drop in tourism traffic

Fewer travelers coming here affects hundreds of businesses, San Francisco tourist bureau says

San Francisco's revenue from tourism dropped nearly 8 percent in 2009 amid global financial uncertainty, according to a report released this week.

The report, which also reflects a drop in out-of-town tourist traffic to the Tri-Valley and the Livermore Valley wine country, is an annual estimate of the economic impact of the tourism industry in San Francisco. It was released by the Convention & Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit organization promoting tourism in the city.

The report reveals the city hosted 15.4 million visitors in 2009 compared to 16.3 million in 2008, a 5.8 percent decrease.

Visitors in San Francisco spent $7.8 billion in 2009, 7.8 percent less than in 2008 when visitors spent $8.5 billion, the report states.

Laurie Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the Convention & Visitors Bureau, said tourism is vital to generating revenue for the city's general fund, which pays for the city's infrastructure, police and fire departments and education, social and other city programs. More than 66,000 jobs in the city depend on tourism.

"Tourism is extremely important to San Francisco's economy because it generated over $426 million in taxes and fees for the city (in 2009)," Armstrong said.

The drop in occupancy and average daily rates at hotels has had a ripple effect on restaurants, stores, theaters, museums, and taxis, Armstrong said.

She said the decline in tourism and travel is due to the global economic situation causing financial instability. People are traveling less because they are either unemployed or fear losing their job, Armstrong said. Businesses are also cutting back on travel.

"Confidence is low, so they're holding on to their discretionary income," Armstrong said. "If the economy improves, we think leisure travel will improve as well."

In an effort to boost tourism, the city is focusing on booking conventions, planning a collaborative effort with major cultural venues this summer to attract cultural travelers, and launching a campaign targeting gay and lesbian travelers.

"We're doing everything we can to try to keep visitors coming to San Francisco," Armstrong said. However, she predicted, "2010 will be pretty much the same" as last year.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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