March 27, 2013 - San Francisco’s official Visitor Information Center (ViC), operated by the San Francisco Travel Association, has completed a major transformation.

The emphasis of the new ViC is on a quality “high touch” as well as “high tech” experience. The ViC’s major asset – the friendly, expert, multilingual staff of San Francisco experts – has been moved from the back of the space to the center, easily visible and accessible to guests and visitors. And, while brochures from many of San Francisco Travel’s 1,500 partner businesses are still available, the racks have been pushed from the center of the room to the walls, making the area much more spacious and welcoming.

Each year, the ViC receives 400,000 visitors from around the world. It has welcomed 13.5 million visitors since it opened in 1976 in Hallidie Plaza, outside the Powell Street BART and Muni station and near the cable car turnaround. The team of 15 staff and 15 volunteers speaks 14 languages: Cantonese, English, French, German, Greek, Hindu, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Many of the team have been working at the ViC for 10 years or longer.

"For many of our worldly visitors, San Francisco Travel’s visitor information center is their first introduction to San Francisco," said Mayor Edwin M. Lee. "The transformation of the City's official visitor information center combines technology and innovation to include greater emphasis on human interaction and making a more personal connection. It's that type of positive visitor experience that draws travelers back to the Innovation Capital of the World again and again."

“The new space matches San Francisco itself – wide open, modern and inviting,” said Joe D’Alessandro, San Francisco Travel’s president and CEO. “We provide personalized service and recommendations to help visitors make the most of our 49 square miles.”

“We call it the ‘ViC’ with a small ‘i’.’ That’s the international symbol for visitor information and it’s what we’re all about,” added Matt Stiker, San Francisco Travel’s executive vice president/chief marketing officer. “About a third of the 16 million visitors who come to San Francisco annually are from outside the United States and we want to make it clear that this is the place for them.”

At the center of the 4,000 square foot facility are two clusters of blackjack-style tables, each with three service counters. Here, visitors can work with the staff “geniuses” to plan their itineraries, book tours and reserve hotel rooms. The ViC sells attraction packages like CityPASS, Wharf Pass, and the Go San Francisco Card. Visitor can purchase tickets for the famous cable cars and Muni Passports good for one, three or seven days’ use of the city’s public transit system.

Two floor-to-ceiling wooden maps dominate the back wall of the Visitor Information Center. One shows the entire city of San Francisco with the major neighborhoods and attractions clearly marked. The other shows the city’s location on a map of Northern California, clearly showing the proximity to wine country, Yosemite, Monterey and other famous attractions of the state.

“We often use laser pointers to indicate directions and distances to our guests,” said Erin Gaenslen, director of visitor experience. “This is a great place to get their bearings, whether it’s their first visit to San Francisco, their fourth or they’ve decided to venture out and explore beyond the bridges.”

Panels around the center feature illustrations by local artist Erna Kristin (www.ernakristin.com). Overhead, two Big Ass Fans (www.bigassfans.com), each one more than 20-feet wide, circulate the air as the staff circulates ideas and information. Large clocks make it easy to check the time “back home” in London, Sydney or Tokyo. And video monitors provide even more ideas of what to see and do in and around San Francisco.

The ViC has also added a pop-up store from SFMade (www.sfmade.org), which supports and promotes manufacturers located in San Francisco. Visitors can purchase unique, top quality items that are truly authentic San Francisco gifts and souvenirs.

Visitors are welcome to check email and print out boarding passes at two computer stations and the ViC is also equipped with free Wi-Fi service.

“When we first approached this project, we saw other destinations delivering a ‘high tech’ solution. Although we are surrounded by the most innovative companies in the world, we felt it was important to strike a balance between the ‘high tech’ and the ‘high touch.’ Our partners Gensler and Webcor really understood our vision and made it a reality,” Stiker said. “We’re honored to be a part of a project that is so fundamental to the visitor experience in San Francisco,” says Jeff Henry, Design Director for Gensler. “We have designed a space that emphasizes service and hospitality while celebrating San Francisco’s distinct culture.”

The San Francisco Travel Association is the official tourism marketing organization for the City and County of San Francisco. For information on reservations, packages, activities and more, visit www.sanfrancisco.travel or call 415-391-2000. The Visitor Information Center is located at 900 Market St. in Hallidie Plaza, lower level, near the Powell Street cable car turnaround.

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San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers non-stop flights to more than 31 international points on 30 international carriers. The Bay Area's largest airport connects non-stop with 75 cities in the U.S. on 15 domestic airlines. For up-to-the-minute departure and arrival information, airport maps and details on shopping, dining, cultural exhibitions, ground transportation and more, visit flysfo.com. Follow SFO on twitter.com/flysfo and facebook.com/flysfo.

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