International tourists to flock to San Francisco as pandemic eases

The US will soon be getting back something it lost during the pandemic: millions of foreign tourists.

Beginning November 8th, the government is lifting COVID-19 travel restrictions that prevented much of the world from entering the country.

Fully vaccinated travelers from countries like China, India, much of Europe, and beyond will be allowed back in.

Tourism is the lifeblood of the San Francisco economy.

Throughout the pandemic, The City has had to rely mostly on local visitors and a trickle from outside the state and country.

But that’s about to change.

With favorable temperatures on a sun-drenched Saturday, Pier 39 was teeming with tourists.

But what it has been lacking is that full flavor of foreigners, something the assistant manager at Lids has noticed.

"It was fun but difficult to sell like with the foreign language barrier but we did our best to communicate and have our sales, but we haven't had that in a while," said Jesus Gonzalez, Assistant Manager of Lids.

Gonzalez and staff will need to prepare, because those tourists have a chance to come back beginning November 8th.

That’s when the US will begin allowing fully vaccinated foreign travelers back in, doing away with a COVID-19 travel restriction that barred much, but not all of the world from entering the country for well over a year-and-a-half.

The change should help boost the bottom line for tourist business hot spots like Pier 39.

"Foreign visitors spend four times what American visitors do per capita, so the return of these folks is vital to our economy throughout the US, but particularly San Francisco," said Taylor Stafford, CEO of Pier 39.

Industry leaders say some hotels have shut down, while others have been operating with thin guests lists.

According to the hotel council of San Francisco, international visitors account for 63% of tourism spending in the city.

Their absence has been profound.

"I mean if you look at San Francisco, the state of California, the nation, it's billions of dollars of lost revenue and for us in San Francisco, it's significant," said Kevin Carroll, CEO Hotel Council of San Francisco.

Diminished crowd sizes are starting to reverse, but the dearth of foreign visitors has battered business, something a Saint Louis resident has noticed.

"It's the number of businesses that are shut down that were here two years ago that's surprising.  Yeah, it's sad," said Kurt DeRouse visiting from St. Louis

For current visitors, the decline in tourism has had an upside, but that benefit may be short-lived.

"We haven't had to wait. We find seats on the trolley and whatnot, so yeah, it's been very pleasurable," said Amy DeRouse.

Even though foreign visitors are expected to bring a big lift to businesses, experts say they expect it will be gradual, not sudden.

Experts we talked to say, it may still take two or three more years before they see anything close to pre-pandemic levels.