Will San Francisco tourism be revived?

For 20 years, the annual convention Dreamforce — hosted by the tech behemoth Salesforce — has drawn out-of-towners to San Francisco for networking, talks, concerts and lanyard badge mingling.

This week’s conference is becoming its most consequential yet, with eyes firmly set on seeing a successful Dreamforce come true. Across the city’s tourism and hospitality industries, leaders are banking on a flawless event which they say is a crucial harbinger for luring tourists back to the City by the Bay.

“This is a pivotal moment in San Francisco history,” said Alex Bastian, president of the Hotel Council of San Francisco. “Many of the hotel members really stepped up and did their part to ensure we have the space and occupancy ready. As of now, it appears that many of the hotels in San Francisco will be fully occupied from Sept. 20 to the 22.”

Dreamforce is not only the city’s largest convention in terms of attendance, it’s also the most impactful Moscone Center event of the year. The San Francisco Travel Association expects that Moscone Center events, in total, will produce economic fruits of more than $400 million in 2022.

The revenue is a far cry from the estimated $1.17 billion impact the Moscone Center saw in 2019. However, it’s a promising increase from the $20.8 million generated in 2021.

As San Francisco’s tourism industry continues to bounce back after the COVID-19 pandemic, events that attract major publicity like Dreamforce are an opportunity to mold the national narrative to announce that the Golden Gate is open for visitors.

“It’s not only important for our economy — attendees going out to eat, going to shops and staying in hotels — it also tells the world that San Francisco is open and ready to host major conventions. It shows that our recovery is underway,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

This year’s Dreamforce has 150,000 registered attendees both in person and online, according to Erin Oles, vice president of events marketing for Salesforce.

However, the number of physical attendees is a fraction of these registrations. An insider with close ties to the event told SFGATE that this year’s initial estimate was placed closer to 25,000 attendees. (Editor’s note: After publication, a spokesperson for Salesforce told SFGATE that the number of in-person attendees is 40,000.)

These visitors will occupy hotel rooms, dine-in restaurants and leave behind revenue dollars that support several facets of the San Francisco economy. As an added bonus, 500 Dreamforce attendees and employees will volunteer Sept. 19 to support San Francisco parks with various maintenance projects.

“This is huge for us,” D’Alessandro said. “What’s important for San Franciscans this week is to thank the visitors for being here. They’re employing our neighbors and helping our small business community. We need people to feel very welcome and let them know we appreciate it. I think we learned from the pandemic that San Francisco is not as fun without visitors.”

A unique hurdle that’s troubled San Francisco’s tourism and hospitality industries is navigating a first-time visitor’s distorted perception of the city’s streets. D’Alessandro explained how some visitors will arrive with apprehensions over safety and cleanliness due to San Francisco’s reputation, but are swiftly placated.

“Our brand has been tarnished because of the publicity from the conditions of the streets and issues that get picked up in viral videos,” he said. “We see that people are hesitant, and worry that it’s lawless and out of control. Then they get here and say, ‘Wow, it’s different from what I saw in the media.’ The Golden Gate Bridge is still here and there are restaurants that are off the charts.”

New data helps support the claim. The Visitors Bureau touted a survey it conducted this year that gauged visitors on their impressions of San Francisco after their visit.

“Ninety-seven percent of visitors this year said they want to return — that’s unheard of,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s not saying that we don’t have issues. We have issues that we need to work on. Safety is a dominant one. I think the city has taken steps to make the situation better. By and large, people love coming to San Francisco, and Dreamforce is an example of thousands of people coming to enjoy what the city has to offer.”

For others in the welcoming committee, events such as Dreamforce are a simple opportunity to share the everyday thrills and iconic moments that we have in abundance on the streets of San Francisco.

“I want people to come here to the city of my birth and say, ‘That’s a beautiful place,'” Bastian said. “And to feel the same magic that I do when I’m riding on a cable car.”

Dreamforce will take place Tuesday, Sep. 20, through Thursday, Sep. 22.

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