The San Francisco Giants played a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at home at the end of JUN, and San Francisco Travel Association seized the moment of the final game on 29JUN to show local tour operators, MICE, corporate and leisure trade and media, including Open Jaw, how exciting the destination can be.
A couple of dozen attendees were treated to a view of the game from a private box at Toronto's Rogers Stadium, cheering for both the hometown team as well as our hosts'.
This is San Francisco tourism officials' first return to Canada since the pandemic. They were last here to update the trade in 2019, but felt now was the right time to come back to an important market. Unlike previous years where visits were also made to Vancouver and Montreal, this time, the delegation only came to Toronto, supported by their local partners, DCI International.
Open Jaw spoke to Hubertus Funke, Executive Vice President, Global Tourism Development for the San Francisco Travel Association, between innings.
Funke pointed out that many Canadians are repeat visitors to the northern California city, so the timing of this in-person update helps Canadian trade plan ahead - especially with consumers so "inundated with travel information and promotions" right now.
Lift to the destination is "excellent," Funke said. Coincidentally, he flew out of SFO on AC, and had a chance to try out in person the new Maple Leaf Lounge that opened on 27JUN, featuring Air Canada's first outdoor lounge terrace with fireplaces as well as aircraft and runway views.
"It's absolutely incredible," he enthused. "The design is gorgeous."
Visitation to the Golden Gate City hasn't yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, although the numbers are heading in the right direction. There were 226,000 visitors in 2022, with projections of 288,000 this year and a return to pre-COVID levels in 2024.
"But we're not just looking at numbers," Funke told Open Jaw. "We know many Canadians are familiar with San Francisco, so we want to talk about lesser-known experiences."
That includes the city's "tapestry of neighbourhoods" where many of San Francisco's newest restaurants, arts and culture experiences are to be found and where visitors can find new ways to be a part of how the city "celebrates life," according to Funke.
New Consumer Campaign
SFTA's visit to Toronto coincides with a new consumer campaign called "Always San Francisco," a USD $6-million multi-media campaign. Canada is one of five international markets where digital elements of the campaign run until OCT.
Funke says "Always San Francisco" shows the "quirky" side of the city. "It is a quirky city, in a good way" he told Open Jaw, "We're different. We embrace and celebrate differences. It's part of our DNA."
No coincidence that the city was a founding city for Pride celebrations, after being at the forefront of the legal fight for LGBTQ+ equality from the earliest days of the movement.
More to Celebrate
Those planning travel to San Francisco this year will find "exciting anniversaries" and other celebratory events.
On-theme with the Blue Jays-Giants game outside the box at the Rogers Centre, Funke pointed out that sports events remain a big draw for visitors every year - with the city hosting the ultimate - the Super Bowl - in 2026.
For lovers of fine dining, Michelin awarded 28 stars to restaurants in San Francisco and the Bay area this year, with new entries making the list.
The city's hotel scene has been evolving, too, with over 30,000 rooms available for all budgets, and many new hotels incorporating rooftop terraces. "It's all about the views," Open Jaw was told.
Notable anniversaries in SFO in 2023 include:
- Alcatraz celebrates the 60th anniversary of the closing of the infamous prison, while October ushers in Alcatraz’s 50th anniversary as a national park site
- The Ferry Building celebrates 125 years (ahead of the Ferry Building’s 125th anniversary this July, new merchants have set up shop in the Ferry Building, joining stalwarts such as Hog Island Oyster Company, Gott’s Roadside and Dandelion Chocolate. New merchants in 2022 included artisanal crêpe destination Grande Creperie; Filipino-fusion hotspot Señor Sisig; Arab bakery Reem’s; Turkish bakery Simurgh Bakery; puppy favourite Mishka Dog Boutique; artisan dessert company Yes Pudding, and butchery Fatted Calf.)
- The Golden Gate Bridge celebrates 90 years since construction began on the iconic figure of San Francisco
- San Francisco’s cable cars celebrate 150 years
- Scottish immigrant Andrew Smith Hallidie who forever changed the face of the city with the invention of the first cable car in 1873.
- Now synonymous with San Francisco, the city’s cable cars will celebrate 150 years of traversing San Francisco’s famed hills in September.
- They are the only moving national historic landmark in the U.S.
- SFJAZZ celebrates its 40th anniversary and the 10th birthday of the SFJAZZ Center—the first stand-alone structure in the country built specifically for jazz.
- San Francisco Ballet’s Creativity Explored’s 40th-anniversary celebration supporting artists with developmental disabilities in San Francisco
All in all, San Francisco Tourism Association thinks it offers Canadian visitors a "home run" travel destination this year and beyond.