Scott Beck: San Francisco Tourism Boss Has a Rebuilding Job on His Hands

Skift Take

Scott Beck has his work cut out as the new president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association. The city still hasn’t rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, and a negative perception prevails, but Beck says he is up for the challenge.

With the enthusiasm and can-do spirit that he is known for, Scott Beck has more than 35 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry. Most recently, as president & CEO of Destination Toronto, he led the destination sales and marketing efforts for North America’s fourth-largest city. He will be returning to the U.S. at the end of the month as he will be taking the helm as president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association

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Beck’s business successes are poignant, but the most important aspect of his life are his wife and four daughters, who live in the U.S. It’s been hard for him to be based in Toronto for four-and-a-half years, away from his family, and the pandemic amplified that separation. It isn’t that he was looking to leave Toronto. He wanted to be closer to his loved ones, and San Francisco offered that opportunity.

San Francisco Bound

His memories of San Francisco are joyful, as it was the first big city he ever visited with his mom at nine years old. San Francisco is an iconic city with international appeal, he says, but is going through a challenging time and he understands that.

Drugs, homelessness, crime — the issues San Francisco is facing are not unique to the city, he says, nor is the San Francisco experience monolithic.

His wife spent ten years as a journalist and pointed out that she never covered the planes that landed — only the ones that didn’t. This dynamic holds true for San Francisco, said Beck.

“There are things happening; there is enormous leadership shown by elected officials, by the citizens of San Francisco to make some really big significant changes. There are issues in front of the Supreme Court in the state of California right now about homeless encampments and things that I think are going to be very beneficial to those who are struggling, who don’t have a place to live, and will also be beneficial to the communities,” he explains.

Worked His Way Up in the Hospitality Industry

Beck grew up in the hospitality industry as his dad was the general manager of a ski resort for 30 years. He worked as a busboy, a garbage attendant, and more.

He is not one to rest on his laurels as he embraces change. Predictive generative AI excites him as he sees it as another tool to keep the industry fresh.

He describes the three cities he worked with, Salt Lake City, Toronto, and San Francisco, as underdogs of sorts. Although not a typical underdog, San Francisco is struggling and is not in a position of strength. He plans to do his part to change that.

Recently, the San Francisco Travel Association reported a gain in hotel revenue of 30% when compared to 2022. It also projects hotel occupancy will increase by nearly 5% to 66.8%, much lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Beck says that number has to rise. He is working closely with the economic development community to remind people of the innovation and creativity that is part of the DNA of the city.

Sustainability a Focus

If Beck could change one thing in the events industry, it would be to eliminate all single-use plastics. “That’s everything from signage to giveaways to all the stuff we still feel compelled to stuff a bag with. There are a lot of things we can do that would decrease trash and decrease the impact on the environment in ways that the events industry has at its control and at its sole discretion because there are no city regulations, there’s no federal regulations, there’s no regulations of any type of regulation is going to stop us from making less trash. We can do that,” he said.

The issue is a global one, he points out. “Our industry is part of the global ecosystem,” he said. Attracting international groups is one of his many objectives in his new role at the helm of the San Francisco Travel Association.