Recently, while streaming a TV show, I was served a commercial advertising the city of San Francisco. The “Always San Francisco” commercial featured quick-cutting views of people drinking, serving drinks, and mixing drinks; people dancing; musical hippies in the park; street art; drag queens; and more. Presumably the city leaders decided that the only people who want to visit the city are hipsters looking for something to do Saturday night.
I’m not sure if that ad will be successful at attracting tourists. The commercial is not helped by a singularly slow theme song that is as unexciting as the visuals. (Note to ad agencies looking to get viewers excited about something: If the music isn’t at least as zippy as the Laverne & Shirley theme song, it’s too slow.)
But the bigger problem might just be that the ad doesn’t address what is keeping visitors away from San Francisco. People are not afraid they’ll miss out on drinking and drag queens. News flash: There are drag queens and booze even in conservative states (or they wouldn’t be passing all those ridiculous anti-drag bills). People are hesitant to return because they’re afraid that an evening stroll through Union Square after dinner and a play will include a mugging. They’re worried that someone will bust the window of their rental car and steal their luggage or purchases.
Naturally, a commercial just showing scenes of smiling police officers won’t bring in the crowds, either. So maybe we should find other things to tout about San Francisco.
Journalists receive a steady stream (a barrage, actually) of emails from companies sharing their latest survey results of how various cities rank on all kinds of things. This is the information tourists need.
We are the best American city for foodies. That’s the word from something called Compare The Market AU. The city by the bay in fact was the only U.S. city in the top 10, coming in at fourth place behind Venice, Prague, and Amsterdam. These surveys can be full of interesting tidbits. Did you know a meal in San Francisco is about 50 percent more expensive than a meal in Venice? Or that there are 113.31 vegan or vegetarian restaurants here per 100,000 San Franciscans?
There’s also a company called Lawn Love, which issued a list of the best cities for “thrifting” — shopping at thrift stores, consignment shops, flea markets, and the like. Our fair city doesn’t even make the top of the chart. In fact, in the category of “selective attire” we find San Francisco at number 27. But that can be good! There is a huge, untapped market for cities that appeal to the burgeoning anti-thrifting crowd.
In other disturbing news, San Francisco comes in at number seven on Pest Gnome’s list of most vulnerable cities for rat infestation. We were not helped that we ranked in 14th place for “Average Monthly Google Search Volume for Rat-Related Keywords Over Past 12 Months.” Use a private VPN, people! Civic pride is at stake here. Not surprisingly, the most vulnerable city for rat infestation is New York, where pizza-guzzling rats become social media influencers.
The city did take the number one spot in a survey 10 years ago. Readers of Travel & Leisure magazine said San Francisco was the snobbiest city in America.
FEARING FEAR ITSELF
Snobbishness can be a draw, too; many people visit Manhattan or Beverly Hills or anywhere in France. So we can make that one work for us.
But working against us is, as I noted above, a perception that the city is dangerous. A recent Gallup poll found that 46 percent of Americans think San Francisco is not safe for residents or visitors. There is a partisan divide; 74 percent of Democratic respondents thought our city was safe, but only 32 of Republicans thought so. Considering the ideological bubbles people live in these days and the constant anti-city drumbeat from the populist right, we should be pleasantly surprised that 32 percent of Republicans escaped their Tucker Carlson doom loop.
Big cities do have a criminal reputation these days, and even if murder rates are down across the country, property crimes continue to be high and flagrant. Our city’s leaders can do themselves and the rest of us a favor and expand police staffing and continue cracking down on streetside drug dealers.
Attracting tourists also means attracting permanent residents and businesses. San Francisco Mayor London Breed is touting plans to revitalize downtown San Francisco with everything from a new university campus to filling every empty building with a soccer stadium. (Checks notes.) O.K., just replacing the Westfield mall with a soccer stadium. Still, she’s thinking big, and that’s good. But the overall approach of the city toward business should change from seeing them as parasites and speculators to seeing them as employers and creators of opportunities. Oh, and they pay buckets of taxes, which this city needs more than ever.
It’s feasible the city will carry through on its plans to lighten the regulatory burden on small business. (The Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the legislative package on Sept. 7, if you’re interested in supporting it in person.) That’s a good first step.
Get some of these safety and business decisions right, and the viral marketing of the city will take care of itself.