San Francisco Travel, the official destination marketing organization for San Francisco, California, takes its official tagline, “Never the same, always San Francisco,” very seriously. Particularly in matters of innovation and staying at the forefront of the destination marketing industry. They know that to promote the city and its destinations abroad, they must be able to navigate the market’s sophisticated playing field. As China continues to be the number one overseas market for the city, San Francisco Travel has remained committed to improving the ways in which Chinese audiences, through their preferred channels, discover and experience San Francisco.

Let’s observe a noteworthy year of “firsts,” and see how San Francisco Travel has gone the distance to stay digitally savvy:

1. One of the first US-based DMOs to have a foreign verified WeChat service account
San Francisco Travel was one of the first U.S.-based destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to launch a Chinese-language, foreign-verified WeChat service account in Summer 2017. San Francisco Travel placed WeChat, one of China’s most relevant digital communications platforms, at the top of their priority list, with the service aiding in San Francisco Travel’s search engine ranking and its ability to offer high-quality content while having access to platform features that reach a broader spectrum of Chinese audiences. The launch has significantly raised awareness of San Francisco as a premier city for Chinese travelers.

2. First DMO with a nonstop flight from China to the U.S. that has a microsite

San Francisco Travel was one of the first DMOs to launch a WeChat microsite while also offering nonstop flights from multiple cities in China to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), solidifying its position as a true gateway city for Chinese travelers. The launch of San Francisco Travel’s microsite means an important resource that assists Chinese travelers at two important stages of their journeys: pre-travel and mid-travel. The microsite includes curated Chinese-language content and information ranging from transportation and maps to major attractions and also offers features such as weather forecasts, maps, restaurant reviews and currency converters. San Francisco Travel also posts weekly on WeChat with a focus on seasonal content and campaigns, which directly complement the microsite.

3. First to implement a consistent live-streaming program

With almost half of China’s massive Internet-using population engaging in live-streaming—an estimated 235 million people—San Francisco Travel understood that this booming, inexpensive medium would provide an engaging and interactive experience for travelers.  San Francisco Travel launched their own live-streaming platform in December 2016, using Yizhibo, a Chinese video-sharing and live-streaming app, to broadcast to a live audience of thousands. In the city proper, San Francisco Travel ran a live stream at SFO to drive awareness of its direct flight offerings to China. Another was held at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) to highlight its many stunning exhibits and unique attractions, with the two live streams earning over 370,000 views on Yizhibo. In nearby Napa Valley, a live stream showcased the experience of pairing art and wine at a gallery in the heart of wine country, and another offered an insider’s view to an exclusive dining experience, garnering over 184,000 views on Yizhibo between both live streams.

4. One of the first DMOs to partner with a hometown NBA team for the 2017 NBA Global Games in China

San Francisco Travel is one of the first DMOs to partner with its hometown basketball team for the NBA Global Games in China, tapping the beloved Golden State Warriors to amplify the region’s presence through a cross-platform social campaign. The NBA Global Games, hosted in Shenzhen and Shanghai in October 2017, served as an opportunity to raise the profile of San Francisco and Northern California as desirable travel destinations through the use of targeted media and social placements during the tournament. The campaign generated over 5.8 million views across platforms, utilizing Weibo, WeChat, live streams, and paid ads. The success of the campaign demonstrated that implementing a cross-functional strategy when engaging with sports fans can be highly effective. In particular, paid ads were instrumental in gaining followers on WeChat, wherein San Francisco Travel achieved a 15.8 percent follower growth rate.

5. First Western DMO to participate in a Singles’ Day campaign

As the world’s largest outbound travel market, China saw over 122 million of its citizens venture out of the country in 2016, spending $109.8 billion while visiting overseas destinations. San Francisco Travel sought to build upon this momentum by participating in China’s Singles’ Day, which stands as the world’s largest online shopping event––with 2017 observing a record-breaking $25.3 billion in sales (2x that of 2017 Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, combined). San Francisco Travel partnered with Alibaba’s rapidly-expanding travel portal, Fliggy, to implement a campaign to attract Chinese millennials, the country’s most active group of outbound travelers. The campaign was the first instance in which multiple U.S. destinations came together to combine their resources and be featured in one performance-driven campaign in the China market, utilizing various mobile and desktop media assets to promote the city’s travel sales through the Fliggy platform. San Francisco Travel’s activity exceeded all expectations, earning nearly 40,000,000 impressions for San Francisco within 24 hours.

Humphrey Ho is the U.S. managing director at Hylink Digital, one of China’s largest digital advertising agencies. He can be reached at