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London in Paris: Here’s how Mayor Breed pitched SF to European travelers

Illustration | Leo Cooperband

On a recent trip to Europe, Mayor London Breed embarked on a busy four-city tour in the hopes of luring more travelers back to San Francisco.

A look at Breed’s itinerary, obtained by The Standard through a public records request, paints a picture of how she pitched the city to an audience of European journalists,  executives and political leaders with the goal of boosting flights and activity at San Francisco International Airport. SFO paid for the $25,000, 10-day trip, during which Breed was joined by staff and a small delegation of airport and travel officials. 

The trip didn’t leave much time for leisure, though Breed did squeeze in a tour of London’s Boxpark Shoreditch–a “pop-up” mall with street food, shopping and entertainment–as well as a bicycle tour of Paris and an evening concert at the Philarmonie de Paris as part of a cultural exchange. The packed itinerary also included dinner meetings at local hotels and eateries, including London’s Cote Brasserie Soho and Frankfurt’s Frankfurter Botschaft. 

Mayor London Breed surveys Parisian bike infrastructure on March 24, 2022.

On the trip, Breed met with executives at British Airways, Air Belgium and Lufthansa, all with the goal of increasing the number of nonstop flights to San Francisco International Airport. Breed also met with executives at two airports–Gatwick International Airport in London and Brussels Airport–to strategize about boosting flight frequency to and from San Francisco, as well as with German tour operators to pitch the city as a stop in popular travel packages. 

Jeff Cretan, Breed’s spokesperson, said that a common theme of those conversations was the return of business travel and “knowing what we’re doing to bring businesses back downtown, and San Francisco remaining a vibrant business center.” Conventions and business travel are typically a major driver of tourism in San Francisco, but each plummeted during Covid and have been slow to return. 

The conversations with airport and airline officials were promising and may lead to good news soon on the flights front, Cretan said. 

Much of the Mayor’s time was also focused on promoting a positive image of San Francisco–both in highlighting its attractions, and tamping down concerns about crime, safety and street conditions. 

The mayor’s itinerary showed a total of eight media interviews across print, radio and television, in which Breed sought to highlight San Francisco as a destination for the “urban outdoors”: its renowned shoreline, parks and natural attractions, as well as a destination for outdoor dining in the post-Covid era of restaurant parklets. Breed spoke to journalists at EuroNews Green, London Live News, Le Figaro and Geo Saison, among others. 

In one hour-long interview with British podcast host Paul Blanchard, Breed discussed the city’s success in responding to the Covid pandemic, as well as ongoing efforts to steer people suffering from addiction and mental illness into treatment, including a controversial push for more court-ordered treatment or conservatorship.

“Our governor and state representatives are now all focusing on this because it’s happening all over the state, and all over the country,” Breed said. “The challenge we have is being honest about the fact that there are some people that need to be forced into a situation where they can get help, and sometimes that includes a locked mental health facility.” 

The mayor’s efforts to bring travelers back to the city come with significant stakes: International travel, in particular, drives higher spending both at SFO and at the city’s restaurants, hotels and shops compared to domestic travel.

In 2021, international visitors were responsible for 44% of all overnight visitor spending despite accounting for just 11% of total visitors. As of year end, the SF Controller’s Office noted that international enplanements had climbed to just 40% of pre-pandemic levels, pointing to continued trouble ahead for the city’s hotels and hospitality industry.

Breed’s itinerary included meetings described as relationship-building events, including one hour-long meeting with London Mayor Sadiq Aman Khan and staff members from both mayors’ offices. 

In Paris, Breed met with Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, to discuss public safety and retail crime. A San Francisco Louis Vuitton store was a target in a high-profile, retail crime blitz in November 2021 that left several Union Square shops ransacked and damaged. 

Also in Paris, Breed met with Mayor Anne Hidalgo–including a quick tour of Paris City Hall–as well as with Denise Campbell Bauer, U.S. Ambassador to France, to discuss the sister city arrangement between San Francisco and Paris. San Francisco maintains sister city relationships with 19 cities worldwide, according to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. 

“There could be bigger opportunities that come from these cross-city efforts,” said Cretan. “With San Francisco and European cities, there’s a connection there–a lot of shared policies and values.”