As San Francisco leaders make plans to revive the Union Square shopping district, hotels in the city want to fill 1,200 jobs.
During a joint press conference Tuesday at a Downtown hotel, national, state and local hospitality leaders said they have high hopes for a bustling summer tourism season as the industry makes a slow recovery from COVID-19 lockdowns.
The city's hotel occupancy rate remains down by 24% compared to pre-pandemic levels, but the tourism sector is optimistic that as international travel restrictions ease up, group tourism reawakens and conferences come back to the city, Downtown will be vibrant once again.
To accommodate the projected uptick in visitors and conference attendees, the industry wants to recruit and retain hotel workers by providing above-average wage jobs with benefits and career pathways.
The announcement comes on the heels of Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin introducing legislation Monday that aims to turn Union Square's vacant retail storefronts into dynamic spaces. If passed, the building code policies would change so multi-level buildings can become office spaces, restaurants and retail stores all at once.
"The challenges facing Downtown require us to imagine what is possible and create the foundation for a stronger, more resilient future," Breed said.
After roughly 18 months of lockdown restrictions, San Francisco's 200-plus hotels lost a large portion of their 25,000-person workforce—at the pandemic's peak, the industry lost about 70% of its workers. Today, the workforce is about 75% to 80% of what it was before the pandemic, said Hotel Council of San Francisco president & CEO Alex Bastian.
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"We are looking at really growing again. We're looking at bringing back this community to the position it was before and to take it even further than that," Bastian said.
Bastian said now is the time to double down on hospitality, especially as tech and finance industries are facing hardship. Tourism is an industry that provided about $440 million in direct tax revenue in 2019, and returning to those numbers could directly improve the city's overall conditions, he said.
"We go through earthquakes. We go through pandemics. We go through tech bubbles; and every time we go through whatever challenge it may be, we always come back better," Bastian said. "We always come back stronger. And that's what we're going to do collectively in this room, and that's what we're going to do as San Franciscans."
California Hotel & Lodging Association president & CEO Lynn Mohrfeld said he's "very pleased" with how San Francisco is working to recover from the pandemic, which hit hotels hard throughout the state's major cities. Throughout the country, people were not seeking out urban destinations with so much uncertainty about the virus, he said.
"Our success in the hospitality industry is tethered to the vibrancy of the city," Mohrfeld said.
Hotel revitalization also goes hand in hand with reducing office vacancies and bringing San Franciscans back to Union Square, said Union Square Alliance CEO Marisa Rodriguez. She said she wants residents to feel like Union Square is their "living room."
“When local hotels are thriving, so are Union Square businesses," Rodriguez said. "That's because hotel guests support local shops, restaurants and other small businesses when they visit San Francisco. We are excited to partner with hotel and city leaders to ensure our beloved Downtown achieves its full potential."
To learn more about available hotel jobs, residents can visit a job fair at the Ferry Building scheduled for April 12, put on by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
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