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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tourists Live It Up While Poor San Franciscans Take Stay-Cations

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2008 at 7:55 AM


By Masha Rumer

Based on recent figures from the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, tourists shelled out a record $8.2 billion in the City by the Bay last year, 6.2 percent more than in 2006. Overall, tourism climbed 2.4 percent in 2007 to 16.1 million visitors.

Hotel occupancy rate alone crept up to 79 percent, according to PKF Consulting, with a daily room rate averaging $181, and the Bureau’s president and CEO Joe D’Alessandro hails tourism as “San Francisco’s most vital industry.”

Thank you, slumping dollar. Foreigners are lured here largely because their money can buy more.

Plus, the green light to same-sex nuptials last week is another blessing for the industry, at least until November.

Same-sex marriages could rake in $683.6 million in revenue for California’s economy in the next three years, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law.

The fashion news source Women’s Wear Daily chimes in: “It turns out gay marriage is good for business — especially as gas and food prices rise and credit remains tight,” reads the story headlined “The Bliss of Newlyweds: Same-Sex Marriages Boost California Stores” from June 18.

The story mentions Manika Jewelry on Maiden Lane, whose owner says the increase in business is “definitely noticeable” as same-sex couples shop for rings. And the owner of Ver Unica vintage boutique in Hayes Valley, displaying a female wedding couple in the window, recalls business was good when same-sex nuptials were allowed in 2004.

Gay, bi or straight, city or City Hall-bound, tourists are giving San Francisco a nudge. It’s a pretty picture. Restaurants and salons won’t be deserted on weekends. Bartenders won’t slouch over shiny counters, cross-eyed from the self-mixed margaritas to ease the pain of the empty tip jar. The Convention & Visitors Bureau claims tourism-related jobs grew over 5% last year, with an annual payroll of $1.95 billion. And one can only wonder about the effect on homelessness.

But can the influx of Lonely Planets and their foreign equivalents have a cloudy lining? For one thing, being placed so prominently on the map might incite a warm and fuzzy feeling of snobbishness, the polarization into “us and them.”

Take New York’s Times Square, best avoided. It’s stampeded by visitors in oversized sweatshirts and baseball caps, fingering lip gloss at Sephora and doing painful imitations of Robert DeNiro. Many waiters illegally add 15% to foreigners’ dinner tab, because, they believe, Europeans have the generosity of a tree stump when it comes to tipping. Tourism is the backbone of New York City’s economy, but those who’ve lived there for more than a month develop this haughty, “You look like you’re from New Jersey and you’re making me stressed” attitude.

We ain’t got the compression level of NYC, but is a similar attitude breeding here too? Recently I saw a man on Haight duck from under yet another tourist camera. He muttered: “Geez, I feel like I don’t live in San Francisco anymore.” He’s not the only disgruntled local, whatever “local” means. Try Powell Street on a weekend.

Maybe it’s tourist envy in the slumping U.S. economy. Tahoe is gallons of gas away. Your dollar will buy you a bunk bed at a London hostel with crooked walls, indoor business and bed bugs. A vacation in Japan would cost many, many sublets (at once). Your 60-liter backpack is growing mold. And it doesn’t get any better that the classic California-Hawaii route had soared by 50% since Aloha Airlines went belly up.

The rise in San Francisco tourism is kind of like watching through the peephole as someone is having a whale of a time on the side that’s not yours.

Boo hoo. Go ahead, master the flying carpet, open up your overpriced living room for the couch surfing Swedish exchange students, or give directions for a fee as a mime on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Or consider local tourism. Angela Jackson, director of Public Relations at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, euphemizes cabin fever as “stay-cation,” honing in on arts & culture events around town.

And if worst comes to worst, just bask in that uplifting sensation that people are flocking across the globe to pay homage to the fabulous you, while you are managing to afford to live in a place where you dropped your heart. Ahhhh…

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Janine Kahn


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