Moscone Center loses business as major convention goes virtual

Downtown businesses eager to reopen and recoup some of the pandemic lockdown losses are encouraged by San Francisco's move to the yellow tier and low COVID19 case rates, with signs of better times ahead.

This week, however, brought one big setback.

The Moscone Convention Center got word this week from the American College of Rheumatology that the in-person November 2021 convention would be canceled and instead go entirely virtual.

"Sixty-five percent of their delegates are international and right now it's very difficult to travel internationally," said San Francisco Travel President and CEO Joe D'Alessandro.

That means a loss of revenue from the estimated 16,000 attendees.

"Over the last 12 months, we've declined about 80% in our visitor spending in San Francisco," said D'Alessandro.

'There (are) so (many people) that lives on that including myself and I hope it does recuperate and the tourism comes with the convention," said Pedro Lepe of Oakland who works in marketing in San Francisco.

"This neighborhood used to remind me of New York City and now it doesn't....a lot quieter everywhere," said Susan Fish, a resident in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood.

The loss of convention and tourism dollars especially hits the hotel industry.

"There are 34,000 hotel rooms in San Francisco," said Kevin Carroll, President and CEO of the Hotel Council of San Francisco.

Carroll says some San Francisco hotels have only 20% occupancy depending on the day of the week.

He says some areas are seeing signs of tourism beginning to return and some smaller conventions are still scheduled for the fall. Travel experts say it likely will take years, though, for a rebound in the convention and tourism business.

"I think the majority of our hotels will be open, probably by the end of May, into June," said Carroll, "A full recovery, where we have all three of the groups whether it's tourism business travelers and meetings and conventions, It's going to be probably at least three years.

Many say that slow rebound is having a big impact on jobs.

"That's where there are so many people employed in the bay area, in hospitality and tourism and that's why we lag the rest of the state and the rest of the country in recovering our lost jobs here," said Sean Randolph, Senior Director at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

Some say, though, there is hope on the horizon.

"You can clearly see that San Francisco and Yerba Buena in particular are turning a corner. Museums have reopened and we're seeing more and more people on the streets every day," said Cathy Maupin, Executive Director of the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.

"We're looking to drive people from the Bay Area-wide to our space, and then when tourism comes back...national traffic," said Hemsley.

Hemsley says some places such as Palette are focusing on being a destination restaurant, while others are adjusting their business models to be less dependent on conventions.

D'Alessandro says one of the biggest factors in the recovery will be COVID-19 vaccinations and people feeling more at ease resuming large gatherings. The SF Travel Association has launched a campaign called "The Gate is Open" to alert people about San Francisco's reopening. 

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or