Hello, San Francisco

The San Francisco Travel Association’s Executive Vice President & Chief Tourism Officer Hubertus Funke talks milestones and celebrations

If you’re going to San Francisco, expect to discover more than you expected — and to make it your own. Along with the iconic sites travellers associate with the city such as the Golden Gate Bridge and its iconic cable cars, the destination’s new “Always San Francisco” campaign promotes the city’s diverse neighbourhoods and a wide range of authentic visitor experiences.

“It’s a $6 million campaign, the first of its kind that we’ve ever done and at the heart of that campaign is really bringing San Francisco back to the people,” Hubertus Funke, the San Francisco Travel Association’s (SFTA) Executive Vice President & Chief Tourism Officer told Travel Courier. “It’s always what you thought it is but it can be so much more, and it will always be your own experience that’s what we want to convey. There’s so much to do and see in San Francisco and we want to help you create that experience.”

Looking ahead, Funke said 2023 is a milestone year to visit with lots of festivities and events planned as several iconic attractions like Alcatraz, the Ferry Building and San Francisco’s cable cars are all celebrating significant anniversaries.

“We have a lot to celebrate in San Francisco this year. First of all, there’s a ton of anniversaries and festivals around it that are happening this year. To name a few, the famous cable cars are turning 150 years old this year,” he said. “As you may know, they are the only moving national landmark in the US. They’re very unique to San Francisco. People love them, residents and visitors alike. This year, there’s going to be a lot of different events and activities around that anniversary.”

Meanwhile, the Ferry Building, located on the waterfront is marking its 125th anniversary on July 13, and this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the closure of Alcatraz.

“So there’s really lots of exciting things happening and I think that’s really appealing for Canadian visitors to either discover San Francisco or rediscover San Francisco if they’ve been before,” he said.

As for where to stay, new options include The Line Hotel SF, a “very modern hotel,” the LUMA Hotel San Francisco, located adjacent to Oracle Park, and 1 Hotel San Francisco, a new sustainable, pet-friendly, luxury hotel.

“One of the things that we’ve really had a big focus on during the pandemic is the outdoor experiences. San Francisco has always been lucky to have a lot of outdoor activities within an urban setting, which I think is really appealing to Canadian visitors as well,” he said, adding that the destination is also focusing on its various neighbourhoods. “Over the pandemic there have been openings. We saw the opening of the Presidio Tunnel Tops which is essentially a park on top of two highway tunnels that added about 14 acres of park space, right on the waterfront overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. We added over 40 miles of bike lanes over the last couple of years. So I think in terms of enjoying an urban destination pairing that with like outdoor experiences is really something that people enjoy, especially now.”

In Toronto to meet with trade partners, Funke said the Canadian market remains a priority for the destination with Mexico and Canada being the top international markets for San Francisco.

“In 2022, we had about 222,000 visitors visit from Canada. We’re not back to where we were in 2019 — that was way over 300,000 visitors — but we’re getting back there,” he noted. “For 2023, we’re expecting about 288,000 visitors come from Canada, and that’s a really, really good number. Hopefully by 2024 we’re looking to eclipse the 2019 numbers.”

Notably, Funke says the Bay area has excellent airlift from Canada, with carriers like Air Canada offering service from 12 cities across the country.

“Air Canada has made significant expansions but we also have significant service with WestJet, with United Airlines and so that has really helped us put San Francisco again into the mindset of Canadians,” he added.

Frequent fliers (and business class travellers) can also take advantage of the brand new Maple Leaf lounge at SFO.

Meanwhile, Funke says the SFTA has always prioritized the travel trade, especially in Canada, and will continue to do that.

“It’s really important for us to stay connected with the travel trade because we know they’re the the ambassadors for us, and they are the ones who really convey all the new things and current things,” he added. “So we want to be sure that the travel trade stays informed.”

In addition to luxury bookings, wellness experiences and immersive local experiences, Funke said foodie tours have become increasingly popular.

“The food experience in San Francisco is really unique and for somebody who really wants to take get a taste of that, one of these food tours is really the way to go,” he said. “And the tours really provide the context about the food and different neighbourhoods.”

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