San Francisco Rallies to Retain Dreamforce

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Dreamforce 2023
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff gives the keynote address at Dreamforce 2023, Salesforce’s annual user and developer conference.(© Photo by Jakub Mosur Photography)

In response to warnings that the giant tech conference Dreamforce is considering taking the event elsewhere because of crime, homelessness and drug use in San Francisco, the city cleaned up its streets. But was that enough?

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, put San Francisco on notice that the company, which makes a leading customer relationship management platform, may pull its flagship Dreamforce conference from the city if it didn’t clean up its act. Citing the effect of homelessness, crime and drug use on the city streets on the conference experience, he said the company was considering moving the 21-year-old conference elsewhere if they didn’t see marked improvement for this year’s event, held Sept. 12–14 at the Moscone Center, with satellite events at Yerba Buena Gardens and Moscone West.

“If this Dreamforce is impacted by the current situation with homelessness and drug use, it may be the last Dreamforce,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle leading up to the event. This is in spite of the fact that Benioff tweeted on the social media formerly known as Twitter after last year’s Dreamforce that there had been no safety issues reported. There also were no issues reported at this year’s Google Cloud Next conference, which was held in San Francisco a few weeks before the 2023 Dreamforce.

The threat appears to have worked. While Benioff has yet to commit to keeping Dreamforce in San Francisco, he did tell reporters, “I’ve put a lot of pressure on the city and really ramped it up in the last few weeks. When the city of San Francisco wants to look good and get shiny, clean and safe, it knows how to do that.” Among the measures the city took were providing enhanced police and security presence, crossing guards, guides, and extra street cleaning each day of the convention.

“Why can’t San Francisco be like this every single day? Why does it take us having to say (something)? What is that?” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff asked Gov. Gavin Newsom on stage at a Dreamforce event, according to a news report.

Newsom replied, “Yes, it can be like this,” and renewed his call for finding a permanent solution for homelessness, drug use and street crime.

More than 40,000 Salesforce customers attended this year’s Dreamforce event, making it the city’s largest in-person conference since the pandemic, though it was still just a small fraction of the nearly 200,000 who used to attend in earlier years. Losing Dreamforce would mean a hit of about $40 million in economic activity, a significant chunk of the $400 million total economic impact of conventions expected for San Francisco this year, according to SF Travel.

Even pre-pandemic, the city already had lost several large tech conventions, including Oracle’s CloudWorld, due to high hotel rates as well as open-air drug markets, aggressive homeless population, and trash on the streets. But the city is now on notice that it needs to change the reality—and the perception—that San Francisco isn’t a safe place to bring a major conference.

As Joe D’Alessandro from SF Travel said in a recent news report, “It’s important not only for Dreamforce, but for all of the conferences we host, that they have a good time and that delegates feel safe.” In another news report, he amplified, saying, “This fall, in fact, is going to be a busy conference year for San Francisco. So, we’re going to see a lot of conferences come, starting now all the way through December and our focus and our goal, together with the city and the hospitality industry, is to make sure that San Francisco shines.”

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