San Francisco Chronicle

U.S. visits on way up, but S.F. not high on list

- By Nami Sumida

After a dismal pandemic year, cities and industries are optimistic about a rebound in internatio­nal travelers visiting the U.S. Already, more people are traveling from abroad to U.S. cities like Miami and New York. But one city that has yet to see substantia­lly more overseas travelers is San Francisco.

The number of overseas visitors entering the U.S. through San Francisco was down 93% in June, according to preliminar­y data from the Internatio­nal Trade Administra­tion. The agency tracks visitation through I94s, which are forms completed by overseas visitors when entering the United States by air, land or sea. Nearly all of San Francisco’s I94s are collected at San Francisco Internatio­nal Airport.

An overseas visitor is defined as a nonresiden­t traveling to the U.S. for at least one night (but less than a year) and for reasons other than employment. People traveling for business, tourism or other personal reasons are included.

Prepandemi­c, San Francisco was one of the most popular U.S. destinatio­ns for overseas visitors. It had the fourth most internatio­nal trav

elers in June 2019, behind New York, Los Angeles and Miami. The city now ranks 12th, with about 15,000 overseas visitors entering last month — down 93% from 233,000 in June 2019. Visitation to Los Angeles is also low, with 88% fewer travelers from abroad.

Meanwhile, internatio­nal travel to Miami has shot up in recent months and is down only 24% from prepandemi­c levels. Overseas visitors to the city now make up 34% of the nation’s total — 24 percentage points higher than what it was in 2019.

San Francisco’s overseas visitors, however, comprise just 2% of the U.S. total, down five percentage points from before the pandemic.

The primary reason for San Francisco’s steep decline is the city’s mix of travelers, according to SFO spokespers­on Doug Yakel. Most inbound internatio­nal activity at SFO is from Asia, where COVID19 cases have increased in recent months and have led to restrictio­ns on travelers from certain Asian countries. Major airports on the East Coast, however, do not rely as much on travel from Asia and instead cater to European visitors.

European travelers are currently leading the recovery in U.S. inbound travel, remarked Yakel.

While this is most noticeable at East Coast airports, he has observed this at SFO as well. “Back in May, we were averaging about 500 people coming in from Europe. This month, that number is about 1,700, so more than triple the number of people in May,” he said.

Despite that, internatio­nal arrivals remain low, and Yakel expects this to persist until COVID19 cases fall internatio­nally and travel restrictio­ns are lifted. “Inbound internatio­nal travel … that will probably be the last category to recover,” he said.

 ?? Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2020 ?? Travelers organize carryon items after security screening at SFO in 2020. San Francisco’s overseas visitors comprise just 2% of the U.S. total, down five points from before the pandemic.
Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2020 Travelers organize carryon items after security screening at SFO in 2020. San Francisco’s overseas visitors comprise just 2% of the U.S. total, down five points from before the pandemic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States