Monday, July 23, 2007

Please, Indians, come to San Francisco and bless us with your precious, sweet 'rupees'!

Fun historical tidbit: In ancient times, American wealth and tolerance attracted millions of immigrants from around the world. Our country grew rich as genius Indians like Vinod Khosla flocked to our shores and created everything precious and sweet about the Internet, including that 'OMG Shoes' video on YouTube, and were rewarded with barrels of the world's bulwark currency.

These days our profligate Treasury finances its record debt by selling trillions in IOUs to the Chinese government; we scare away as many immigrants as possible by treating them like terrorists; and we can't have nice things because we'll set them on fire or rot them right before a natural disaster or ignite them with looting and sectarian violence or corrupt them from the executive suite or just generally America them into a sad incompetent Enron-Katrina-Airport Security death spiral or whatever.

The effect on the dollar has been predictable, here it is against the Indian Rupee:

I interviewed an Indian guy last week. His company uses programmers in San Francisco to create Web software to deploy in the rich, Rupee-soaked Indian market, which is just so very wrong I don't know what else to say. Oh, except this: This Indian American entrepreneur told me the latest batch of smart Indians coming out of U.S. universities is moving back to India, since that is where the growth, smart people and oh ya valuable currency is.

The point is: Please, Indians, come to San Francisco and spend your highly sought-after rupees, which can buy you very many nice things on Union Square, not all of which were manufactured in China. Enjoy our land of opportunity and feel free to ignore the untouchable homeless person with an untreated medical problem when he asks you for a "spare five."

Business Times: S.F. opens tourism office to pull visitors from India

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Committee to invent somehow more miserable, unfair SF taxi system

San Francisco has an ingenious system for getting much-needed taxis onto our streets:
  • strictly limit the number of taxis allowed,
  • require that city bureaucrats approve any transfer of permits,
  • have city bureaucrats monitor permit use and all the complicated rules to make sure everything is kosher, since they're legendary at that sort of thing,
  • put everything under the control of an obscure commission susceptible to pressure from various special interests to the detriment of taxi users at large!
The whole system works flawlessly and residents and tourists and conventioneers never have to wait for a cab, or search for one desperately, not that it matters because having your own car in SF is so easy.

You can see how great things are and how plentiful taxis have become by looking at the Taxicab Commission homepage photo above, showing a totally typical automobile lineup on your average San Francisco street.

Logically, the city has created yet another government committee to tweak this ingenuous system.

One way to fix everything might be to let drivers own their own medallions, as they do in New York after shelling out over half a million dollars per, so that drivers control their own livelihood, have an incentive to make maximum use of their cab and can even profit from the medallion sale.

Another solution is to transfer medallions from government bureaucrats to private taxicab companies, who can then dictate terms to their heavily immigrant workforce. Uhhh, hmmm. At least under this scheme there would be political pressure from taxicab companies to issue more medallions (as opposed to the New York system, where issuing more medallions means stealing medallion profits from heavily indebted immigrant drivers).

I never understood why we couldn't set up a program to bring in Oakland and Peninsula drivers during peak hours and seasons. The drivers could even be required to get a separate certification for SF.

Business Times update: Group charged with overhauling S.F.'s taxi business

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San Francisco tourism boss heals the lame, fills city with homosexuals, foreigners

In his first year running San Francisco's tourism office, Joe D'Alessandro has filled the city with fabulous travelers like gays and event planners, created consensus and peace at the Board of Supervisors, brought labor and management together in harmony, conjured tens of thousands of dollars out of thin air, bought you a pony, invented the iPhone and got the whole city a round of cocktails.

Someone please send me something negative about Joe D'Alessandro, because if I have to write another one of these stories where every single source, including friggin' Supervisors, for chrissake, has glowing things to say about Joe, I'm going to lose my journalism license.


Full glowing profile of Joe D'Alessandro, which believe it or not I was not in any way bribed to write: Selling the City / Convention and Visitors Bureau chief D'Alessandro says it's time to put some edge into S.F.'s marketing

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Larry Ellison would like to see other cities. It's not us, it's him.

San Francisco's most financially lucrative convention is called OpenWorld and is run by Oracle, a massive business software company that could buy and sell you like, well, like all the people they have already bought and sold.

OpenWorld has been in San Francisco every year for at least five years, but city officials believe the company is shopping around, looking at younger, "trophy" convention centers (with bigger exhibit spaces, naturally) in places like Las Vegas and Chicago, where CEO Larry Ellison grew up.

Oracle kinda sorta denies it, and San Francisco is totally not impressed.

The good news is, Mayor Newsom led 70 people down to Redwood City to win Oracle back for 2008. The bad news is that there is a significant chance they will leave in the next several years, as I was told by both the CEO of the convention and visitors bureau and the city's head of convention facilities.

The trouble is, the show has grown so large it fills up hotel rooms in the city and they have to put people in rooms as far north as Petaluma and as far south a Santa Cruz and then bus them in. We're close to Oracle HQ and a great lure for attendees, but it would be nice to fit the whole thing in one or two cities, apparently.

I broke this Oracle story (free link) last Friday in the Business Times, and on Saturday it was picked up by that Chronicle column, I think it's called Matier & Ross & What We Read in The Business Times This Morning.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

San Francisco to remind you it was gay before gay was cool

In case gay and lesbian travelers forgot how fabulously pro-gay San Francisco has been since forever, the city's convention and visitors bureau is launching its first ever (wha?) ad campaign targeted at gays and lesbians.

It seems that now that "Will and Grace" is in syndication, pretty much every dusty two-bit town in the country is now claiming/acknowledging it has a gay district and spending money on ads in gay travel mags like Passport, gay papers like the Advocate and gay TV channels like ESPNLogo, trying to get a piece of our action.

The big spender is Philadelphia, whose ad campaign stretches to the UK and includes TV commercials showing two men trading impassioned letters and converging for a tryst in ye olde colonial times.

Houston just jumped in the game with a series of "Not So Straight Facts" about Houston. Phoenix is trading on the alleged hotness of professional baseball players and their butts (really? seriously?).

Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Bloomington Indiana -- everyone's gay friendly now and safe and diverse has been forever and ever really!

The Atlanta guy told me he only got a handful of hateful disturbing phone calls about the campaign and said you are perfectly safe from those people if you stay within the city limits or something. So there! (I kid, but Atlanta is actually the gay capital of the Southeast. Or so I was told.)

San Francisco is worried people will come visit less often and spend more time in, say, sweaty Houston if they are not reminded to come "home" to San Francisco, as the convention and visitors bureau put it. Its initial spend is $100,000 per year for print ads in gay and lesbian magazines and newspapers, perhaps a quarter of what Philly spends.

And city officials insist they aren't too worried -- the Travel Industry Association's first-ever gay travel survey found San Francisco ranked number one in percentage of gay travelers who rated it gay-friendly, with 76 percent compared with 57 percent for number-two Key West.

But just to be safe they put five shirtless, muscular men in their first ad. Eat your heart out Fire Island New York!

Business Times: S.F. steps up gay tourism efforts (free link)

SF gay ad: PDF

SF lesbian ad: PDF

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Metreon could become convention center; humans, cylons would meet for peaceful dialog

The San Franciscan fable of Metreon has a familiar ring to it: Humans devise a grand utopian project that will weave technology into their lives as never before, but despite a supposedly failsafe architecture end up with a cybernetic hell spawn threatening to coldly exterminate life as they know it.

The Metreon hasn't extinguished all vital signs inside its brutal walls quite yet. The Yerba Buena arts district shopping center retains the most primordial forms of mall life: food court restaurants and a movie theater. Plus it's got two electronics stores operated by Metreon's original developer, Sony.

But the project is hardly the bustling theme park envisioned when Metreon opened eight years ago. Anchor shop spaces remain open, and the building often has a deserted feel to it.

So the city's convention and visitors bureau now proposes Metreon be used as a conference center and merged into the Moscone Convention Center, which it sits on top of. The idea was a suggestion from convention planners -- Moscone customers.

Apparently they have been forced to send some convention "breakout" meetings to hotels like the Hilton and Marriott due to lack of available meeting rooms. They have also been grumbling about shabby carpets and non-soundproof room dividers in the main Moscone Center, plus a lack of WiFi and cellphone coverage, so the bureau is also asking for money to fix that up as well.

Westfield, which took over Metreon last year, did not rule out the idea, but says it is focused on a retail turnaround.

Full story from Friday's Business Times: Officials eye Metreon for Moscone expansion (free link)

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

San Francisco to ride this whole 'peaceful tolerance' image out, see where it takes us

Like the teenager who has put his awkward high school days behind him, San Francisco is realizing that maybe it shouldn't be quite so ashamed of its insane crazy radical left-wing ideas like believing in global warming, welcoming gays and lesbians and asking if maybe we should think this Iraq thing through.

Maybe these "San Francisco values" might not look so bad to potential tourists, what with Al Gore winning the Oscar, the gay community basically rescuing from instant bankruptcy all network and cable TV channels -- oh and with the whole San Francisco-led takeover of Congress following a Democratic landslide election victory thanks to apparently widespread voter concerns about the war and corruption and the deficit and the planet melting and World War 3 with Iran.

Could the city draw tourists by promoting its wacky values of peace and tolerance?

Mayor Gavin Newsom thinks the idea is so crazy it just might work! Appearing to be quite sober, he told the San Francisco Hotel Council recently:
These are the values that make us so culturally vibrant and economically vibrant, and so these are the values that we need to promote ... We are competing in an industry that is the No. 1 growth industry in the world.
Plus the rest of the world is kind of upset with America for the whole (alleged!) arrogant warmaking hegemony thing, and the whole treating them like terrorists at our airports thing, and it would be nice to have them as tourists since their currencies are worth on average about a hundred million times more than the dollar. So highlighting San Francisco's differences with the rest of the country could yet again prove highly lucrative.

Full story in my Business Times report: 'San Francisco values' to woo foreign visitors / City to stress its differences from U.S. (free link)

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

SF tourism hurt by U.S. image, hostility to visitors

Former Bush State Dept counterterrorism official Cari Guittard was among the officials Tuesday warning SF hospitality leaders about the need for political action to ease the visa process and make foreign policy changes to help the U.S. image abroad.

I first wrote about the visit Friday in the Business Times (free link), and it unfolded Tuesday as expected. Guittard was among the speakers at the Convention and Visitors Bureau's "Outlook" conference, which this year focused on potential international visitors and their perception of the U.S.

Guittard is a Texan who worked in Colin Powell's state department. But she left the administration (as did Powell, a relative dove in the Bush White House) and now heads Business for Diplomatic Action, a nonprofit that urges changes to combat the perception that the U.S. is arrogant.

Guittard and others argue that international travel into San Francisco is not nearly what it could be if U.S. ports of entry, according to a joint study her group did with the Travel Industry association in January (PDF), were not so awful.

The study found:
  • Overseas travel to the U.S. has fallen 17 percent since Sept. 11 2001. This does not count Mexico and Canada, which both saw an increase.
  • From 2000 to 2005, travel to the U.S. from the UK fell 8 percent
  • ... from Japan fell 23 percent
  • ... from France fell 19 percent
  • ... from Germany fell 21 percent
  • ... from Korea up 7 percent
  • ... from Australia up 4 percent
  • 54 percent of international travelers say U.S. immigration officials are "rude" according to a study by RT Strategies
  • 66 percent are worried they will be detained for hours for a simple misstatement or mistake
  • the same RT Strategies study also found the U.S. was by far the number one preferred destination from a list of 10 broadly defined choices
  • One survey showed the U.S. has the world's absolute worst entry process
More in the study (PDF) and my Business Times story (free link).

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Hoteliers question growth assumptions

Hoteliers weren't quite drinking the Kool Aid at the Hotel Council's holiday lunch Friday. Tom Callahan of PKF Consulting unveiled a forecast that room rate will grow $15 per room per night to $182 in 2007, with occupancy nudging up one percentage point to 79 percent.

He fielded some pointed questions from the audience on how that's possible given the 100,000 fewer convention visitors expected next year. Tom said tourists and business travelers will make up -- "backfill" was the term he used in the heat of the moment -- for the lost conventioneers.

Pressed on exactly who these new corporate travelers will be, Tom did not put forth specifics. Biotech? Banking? Digital entertainment? Tech? I guess it remains to be seen.

The Hotel Council lunch, held at the Nikko, also saw the Convention and Visitors Bureau's 6-month-old CEO Joe D'Alessandro really come out swinging for more marketing bucks and solutions to the homeless problems, signalling perhaps that his listening tour of City Hall is wrapping up.

State Sen. Mark Leno weighed in with a plan to bolster statewide tourism spending with a fee on rental cars -- but only after cutting general fund monies, a detail that raised a pointed question from a hotelier in the audience.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ferry rich indeed

It's amazing how a neighborhood just takes off. In four years of covering hospitality in San Francisco, I have seen it happen with the Central Embarcadero neighborhood around the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building is producing stellar business for restaurateurs, for example Charles Phan's Slanted Door is doing $12 million per year (more numbers), following the renovation completed and refilled with tenants by the start of 2004.

The boutique Hotel Vitale from Joie de Vivre completed last year is reportedly doing stellar business, pulling in Average Daily Rate in the ballpark of $225, surprisingly competitive with the Four Seasons, Park Hyatt/Meridien, Omni and W -- four-star business class hotels.

Robert Lam moved butterfly into the neighborhood a few years ago. Pat Kuleto and his investors are spending $18 million to build a restaurant there. The Exploratorium is planning to move in.

It helped that Boulevard and Ozumo were already there.

As if to underline the activity, the Hotel Griffon earlier this year sold for a record per-square foot price, though this is something of a gimmicky number, since hotel deals are usually measured per "key" or room.

Now the Hyatt Regency and Embarcadero Center want in on the action and are joining with Equity Office Properties, the Ferry Building developer and leaseholder, to begin formally branding and promoting the neighborhood, hoping to make it the next Union Square. This bit I report in this week's Business Times.

The Central Embarcadero would include everything from the ballpark up through Pier 5. That's where Pacific Waterfront Partners is putting in a restaurant-and-office project that seems likely to draw some interesting chefs.

In the Convention and Visitors Bureau's most recent survey, the Embarcadero drew 34 percent of hotel guests, compared with 73 percent for Union Square.

FREE link: Tourist map gets redrawn

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Gay workers support anti-gay snuggling policy; or: New Yorker full of it

The American Airlines story just keeps getting weirder.

Apparently there is a website for gay American Airlines employees,

That's not so odd.

What is odd is that Gleam is backing American Airlines in its alleged policy against any gay touching or kissing. They posted an Editor's note on the home page that reads, in part:
The discrepancies between what was reported by the media and the American Airlines' position were of concern to GLEAM. The GLEAM co-chairs have read the New Yorker article and also reviewed crewmember reports and customer communications to try to more fully understand the situation. Our assessment based on the accounts we have read is that the crewmembers acted reasonably.

The New Yorker is highly regarded for its fact checking and accuracy, so any "discrepancies" would be a big surprise. None are specifically outlined by Gleam.

Still, something is off. American Airlines won a big award from Out Traveler magazine, with readers voting it "Gold Standard U.S. carrier for hospitality and service." The airline has the only GLBT-dedicated sales team in the industry. All this according to

Either the airline industry is just burningly, virulently, extremely anti-gay, allowing American Airlines to be the most gay-friendly airline and still have a no gay snuggling policy, or the New Yorker is wrong. Or something big was left out of that story.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

'I'm not made of money -- swim toward Oakland.'

The Oakland Tribune stretchhhhhhhes reality with the headline
East Bay on rise as destination for international travelers.
The only evidence for this is a statement from someone at the Berkeley CVB.

The story is well reported and shows why some international visitors like the East Bay, but it does not support the headline.

The numbers you won't find in the Trib's story: passenger tallies at Oakland International declined by 110,000 for the first seven months of this year to 8.4 million, which I am guessing is due to higher fuel prices.

This didn't keep "Oakland/East Bay" hotels from lifting business a bit. Their revenue per available room rose $7 per room per night to $69 through July, according to PKF Consulting. In the same period in San Francisco, revenue per available room rose $12 to $125.

Maybe people are landing at SFO, where international passenger counts are up 170,000 to 4.9 million through July, and venturing into Oakland. But we just don't know, and I have not yet heard of this happening from anyone (as someone who covers both hospitality and Oakland for the Business Times). It seems more likely that international visitors would go to wine country with their spare time, unless they landed directly in Oakland.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Gay snuggling ban from SFO's second-biggest airline

Extraordinary story out of this week's New Yorker: an American Airlines stewardess and purser stopped two gay men on a flight from Paris (!) to New York from kissing or touching:
Shortly after takeoff, Varnier nodded off, leaning his head on Tsikhiseli. A stewardess came over to their row. “The purser wants you to stop that,” she said.

“I opened my eyes and was, like, ‘Stop what?’ ” Varnier recalled the other day.

“The touching and the kissing,” the stewardess said, before walking away.

Tsikhiseli and Varnier were taken aback. “He would rest his head on my shoulder or the other way around. We’d kiss—not kiss kiss, just mwah,” Tsikhiseli recalled, making a smacking sound.

The two men were later reprimanded by the airplane captain.

What's more, American Airlines is officially standing behind its no-gay-snuggling policy with an official spokesman telling the New Yorker:
Our passengers need to recognize that they are in an environment with all ages, backgrounds, creeds, and races. We have an obligation to make as many of them feel as comfortable as possible.

American Airlines is the second-busiest carrier at SFO, with 8 percent of landing weight, ranked behind United with 42 percent. Interestingly, it is a corporate sponsor of the Billy DeFrank LGBT community center in San Jose and has a corporate non-discrimination policy on "gender identity or expression," according to Equality California, a gay rights group.

Living and working in San Francisco, it can be easy to forget the city is way ahead of the curve on gay rights. Local hospitality companies Joie de Vivre, Kimpton Group and Personality Hotels go out of their way to embrace the LGBT community. And it is hard to imagine a restaurant in this city that would dare institute a policy like American Airlines'.

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