London Breed returns from China with promises of giant panda diplomacy, more flights

Mayor London Breed touched down at the San Francisco International Airport on Sunday afternoon with members of her delegation who accompanied her on a week-long trip to China to advance economic and cultural ties with the region.  

Her trip included proposals for airlines to bring more flights into SFO and also to advance some giant panda diplomacy. 

Breed held a brief press conference in the international terminal just outside of customs to share how the trip went, speaking about efforts to bring more economic vitality to the city and region.

"We were truly successful on our trip, with numerous meetings with government officials, with airlines and with business leaders," she said. "We held a business forum with people who have an interest not just in doing in San Francisco, but also in investing in San Francisco.'

Breed shared it was a promising trip with the hope of rejuvenating tourism from the southern region of China.

"We think that with increased flights, business opportunities, pandas, the economic opportunities for San Francisco will be significant," she said.

SFO Airport spokesperson Doug Yakel shared the Mayor’s visit could net millions in airline travel alone, with the hope that three China-based airlines will commit to flying in and out of SFO. 

"It's so powerful what it represents, not only for our airport but for local economies. We look at a single flight- and I'm talking a daily flight between a foreign destination like China and the U.S. to SFO," said Yakel. "It can be upwards of $175 million in annual revenue and 1,200 jobs in the Bay Area. Total, and that's just one flight." 

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Mayor.Breed arrives at SFO after a trip to China with a delegation to boost tourism and bring giant pandas (Alice Wertz)

Currently, SFO sees flights to China at 50% of pre-pandemic levels. Something Yakel says, has room for improvement, saying, "We're making good progress, but we really need to close that gap and that's why visits and missions like this are so important to us, because this bilateral agreement allows for more flights between the US and China."

While in Beijing last week during her trip, Breed and a wildlife conservation group signed an agreement to explore bringing two giant pandas to San Francisco. The mayor spoke about her reaction to seeing the rare animals. 

"It was the first time I actually got to meet a real panda in person. It was amazing," she said.

Breed shared there’s still lots of paperwork and planning to do, including building a habitat for the giant pandas at the San Francisco Zoo. 

When asked, she said there’s no estimate on what it will cost to bring giant pandas to the City just yet, but feels confident it will happen. 

"We expect a pair of pandas, and they are hopefully expected to come as soon as we’re able to raise the resources, do all the permitting, continue to work with the wildlife and conservation group in Beijing for all the paperwork," she said.

Breed is enthusiastic about what this trip foretells for the future of San Francisco and the region. 

"We know that there is a demand, we heard it from tour operators who told us that we want more flights. We heard it from people who said they want to come to San Francisco." 

Alice Wertz is a freelance reporter for KTVU Fox 2 News. She can be reached at