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Return of regular flights from China signals a major boost for San Francisco tourism

San Francisco to see boost in tourism from China with return of regular flights to SFO
San Francisco to see boost in tourism from China with return of regular flights to SFO 03:54

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tourism to the Bay Area from China and many other Asian countries has been virtually non-existent since the pandemic, but that could soon be changing.

If there's anyone who has a finger on the pulse of tourism in San Francisco, it's Kirk Chappell. He drives a hop-on, hop-off bus for San Francisco Deluxe Sightseeing Tours.

"I've been doing this for 15 years," Chappell said.

Understandably so, the last few years have been a challenge. Chappell says the situation has improved somewhat this year. He has noticed more international tourists on his buses.

"We're doing pretty good. But we could be doing a lot better," he said.

But noticeably absent, or less common at least? Tourists from Asia, specifically, from China.

"They make up a lot of the population that comes here and we haven't been seeing them," he said.

However, San Francisco may soon start to see that change, which would be a big deal, says Chappell.

"It matters to me, because I make a living doing this," Chappell explained. "The more tourists, the better it is. It's better for me and the company, and San Francisco."

On Wednesday afternoon, an Air China 777 touched down at the San Francisco International Airport, marking the beginning of several major airlines resuming regular service between destinations in China and SFO for the first time since March of 2020.

Airport spokesperson Doug Yakel is eager to see more destinations in China regularly appearing on the arrivals and departures board.

"We went weeks, months, years during the pandemic with so many of these missing from the board. Having them all back up here now and knowing that there are more coming, that's really a sign of recovery," Yakel said. "Europe has recovered over 100% of pre-pandemic levels, Australia over 100% of pre-pandemic levels. It's really Asia that's been lagging behind and in particular, recovery to China. Now, we're finally seeing that come back."

Here's a timeline:

Wednesday, November 1st

  • Air China resumes nonstop flights to Beijing operating twice per week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays

Thursday, November 9th

  • United Airlines resumes daily nonstop flights to Beijing

Saturday, November 11th

  • China Southern resumes nonstop flights to Wuhan, continuing to Guangzhou operating once per week

Wednesday, November 29th

  • China Eastern resumes nonstop flights to Shanghai operating twice per week, on Friday and Saturdays

"When more airlines are coming back to SFO, that benefits tourism, that benefits businesses, SFO. And there's really an effect that ripples throughout our region," Yakel said. "It's not only exciting for SFO, it's exciting for the San Francisco Bay Area."

Chappell is optimistic and ready to see how this plays out.

"I'm smiling because, yeah, that's good news to me," he said. "I'm not sure if it'll get all the way back like it was back in 2019, but San Francisco is San Francisco – everybody wants to see San Francisco."

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