Two major tech conferences have decided to pull out of San Francisco’s Moscone Center in 2024, another speed bump in the city’s struggle to restore Downtown business activity to pre-pandemic levels.
The Red Hat Summit 2024, an annual four-day meeting meant to convene thousands of enterprise software professionals, decided to decamp from San Francisco to Denver. Red Hat, a subsidiary of IBM, is billing the event as the first time the summit has been held in the central United States.
“We generally prefer to alter between east- and west-coast-friendly locations for Red Hat Summit to best accommodate our customers and partners,” a Red Hat spokesperson said in a statement. “Sometimes, even when we make plans far in advance to host an event in a given city, we have to change plans based on date conflicts on our end or other circumstances.”
In another bit of bad news, Meta has decided to cancel its Business Group Summit scheduled for March 2024, according to the San Francisco Travel Association. The news about conference pullouts, originally reported by the San Francisco Business Times, is another blow to what is shaping up to be a difficult year when it comes to Moscone Center bookings.
While the company representative wouldn’t confirm a change of plans for 2025, SF Travel said that Red Hat has canceled its summit at Moscone for that year. However, tourism officials said it will be returning to the city 2026, 2028, 2030 and 2032.
During the pandemic, San Francisco had among the steepest declines in business travel revenue of any major metro in the country, according to data from the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
Moscone Center is the city’s largest conference center and a centerpiece of the city’s pitch to group travel organizers. The events space was subject to a four-year, $551 million renovation project that wrapped up in 2019.
Hotel room bookings tied to Moscone events are an oft-cited indicator of the health and pace of business travel to the city. Events at Moscone provide much-needed foot traffic to Downtown small businesses, a flood of direct spending from event organizers and a foundation of hotel bookings for the broader hospitality industry.
In 2022, for example, convention and event attendee spending reached around $587 million. Local hospitality providers, including Airbnb hosts, say they’ve experienced the cascading impacts of the slow return of business travelers to the city.
This year is slated to have around 663,000 hotel room bookings tied to 36 Moscone Center events, higher than the number in 2018 and the nadir of 17,000 rooms booked in 2021.
SF Travel officials attributed these positive numbers in part to good timing, particularly medical conferences that rotate locations lining up in San Francisco.
The forecast for next year, however, was less rosy even prior to the pandemic. In 2024, only 22 events and 462,000 definite room nights are currently booked, according to SF Travel.
“Every year after 2024 shows steady growth, with 2028 and beyond trending to be above 90% of the average,” said SF Travel spokesperson Lori Lincoln.
Still, one worrying sign is lost and canceled room nights, which breached 2 million for both 2023 and 2024. That’s due in part to event bookers that opted to go elsewhere.
“Street conditions and pricing continue to negatively impact the pace [of recovery],” Brett Allor, senior director of market strategy and research at SF Travel, said at his organization's 2023 Marketing Conference in March. “We’re constantly working on retaining business rather than trying to win new business.”
SF Travel is looking for ways to shift the downward trajectory of events and hotel bookings by focusing on smaller corporate events with shorter lead times, boosting the number of staff on their convention sales and events team.
A renewed hotel room assessment approved in 2022 will also go into effect in January to help defray the cost of managing events at Moscone Center.
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org