Visit Oakland faces challenges to grow tourism

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Visit Oakland says when it comes to marketing the town, Oakland has everything a city in America really wants.

"We have had weather, architecture, the attractions, the diversity, the friendly people for years," says Alison Best, CEO and President of Visit Oakland. "We've never really put the emphasis on sharing that with the world," she said.

The question is how you share it effectively.

Best admits that Oakland's public safety issues have made attracting tourism more challenging but points out that other cities face similar problems and still manage to have a thriving tourism industry.

"It doesn't prevent people from visiting New Orleans, and visiting New York, or visiting Chicago, but those cities have embraced all the other things those cities have to offer," says Best.

New tourism numbers suggest that Oakland is doing a better job at getting visitors in town.

According to Smith Travel Research, Oakland's overall hotel occupancy was at 79 percent last year compared to the nationwide average of 62 percent. Visitors to Oakland spend an estimated $1.4 billion and 2.6 million visitors spent the night in 2014.

But getting Oakland on the tourism map is still a challenge, especially when you consider some other numbers.

Visit Oakland is a non-profit group that depends on the hotel tax for its budget.

It has an annual budget of $2 million. Other comparably sized cities like Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and Kansas City in Oklahoma, have budgets of around $11 million. San Francisco has a budget of $30 to $35 million.

Meanwhile, Oakland also is suffering from a lack of hotel rooms. Best says, "we should probably have no less than 15,000 rooms in our downtown core and we probably have less than five."

Rachel Flynn, the Director of Planning and Building says she is hoping more businesses will head to Oakland over the next three to five years.

She says prices in San Francisco have gotten so high "that you start to see the ripple across the Bay Area."

"Rents are getting high enough to allow new housing." explains Flynn, "and that's occurring we have 11,000 units in the pipeline. I didn't think six months ago I would be saying office is now viable but office is now becoming viable."

Hotel developer Damon Lawrence is hoping to add a hundred more hotel rooms to the downtown area. He is right now in the process of bringing a hotel to the downtown area that he would call The Town Hotel.

Renderings viewed by KTVU showed an outdoor rooftop bar and possibly a pool.

Lawrence told KTVU, "There is a definite need and I'm trying to be on the front line of that need. I've fallen in love with it and when you look around there's tons of opportunity."

He's hoping to open his hotel next summer but also says his investors are watching everything that is happening in Oakland closely. Top on his list of concerns is the constant fear that Oakland will lose its pro teams.

But he says he stays optimistic, "I'm hopeful that the teams are going to stay."