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July 2018

Convention Opts Out of San Francisco Over Safety Concerns

by Kate Cripe

Downtown San Francisco, Credit: SF Travel

Downtown San Francisco, Credit: SF Travel

A major Chicago-based medical association is moving its $40 million convention out of San Francisco due to safety concerns for attendees. The city’s—and in particular the Moscone Convention Center’s SoMa neighborhood’s—open drug use and homelessness issues are being blamed for the decision.

The medical group cites that tent encampments, blatant drug use on the city’s streets and untreated mental illness have caused conventioneers to feel unsafe. The five-day, semi-annual medical convention, which attracts around 15,000 people and spends about $40 million in San Francisco, will move to Los Angeles upon completion of existing contracts.

“It’s the first time that we have had an out-and-out cancellation over the issue, and this is a group that has been coming here every three or four years since the 1980s,” Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to NBC Bay Area, the Chicago-based medical association "had already scheduled conventions in San Francisco for later this year and in 2023," but after these events the group decided to opt-out of its longstanding contract with the city, where it typically held three to five-day conventions every few years.

This decision to opt-out has sparked fear among San Francisco city and tourism officials that other groups won’t book due to the same issues. Tourism is the city’s largest industry, generating $9 billion each year and $725 million in local taxes with conventions making up nearly 20 percent of the revenue.

[Related Content: SF Travel CEO Speaks Out on Safety Concerns]

Events at Moscone Center, which is currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion, bring in roughly $1.7 billion into the local economy.

After San Francisco’s tourism industry took a hit in 2017, SF Travel also blamed these same issues.

“[Tourists] wonder why does one of the wealthiest cities in one of the wealthiest states have streets that look like this?” D’Alessandro said in an interview with CBS SF in February 2018.

“Why are there people living on the streets in these conditions?” he added.

Expense is another reason many groups have opted out of meeting within the City by the Bay.

In 2017, both Apple and Facebook moved their yearly conferences from San Francisco to the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, reportedly due to costs.

San Francisco spends approximately $300 million a year on housing and homeless programs, but city officials and hotels have asked Mayor-elect London Breed to do more by adding additional police foot patrols and mental health services, hoping that tourists will then feel safer.

“The streets are filthy. There's trash everywhere. It's disgusting,” D'Alessandro told the San Francisco Chronicle in April 2018. “I've never seen any other city like this—the homelessness, dirty streets, drug use on the streets, smash-and-grabs.”

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