It wasn’t too long ago that the hotel scene in San Mateo county was dismal. Plans for the W Hotel, site of the new Kaiser medical center off Hillsdale Boulevard, were shelved during the economic downturn. Soon a new airport hotel will add 300-400 high-end rooms. The county is looking to pick up some significant revenue because SFO is on county land. Meanwhile, 7,750 rooms have been booked in the county for Super Bowl 50 in February 2016.
Anne LeClair, president and CEO of the San Mateo County Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the hotel market in San Mateo County and Palo Alto is incredibly strong right now.
“Expectations are that the high occupancy and higher rates are here to stay for quite a while. Hotels continue to pump money into renovations and their guests continue to boost our local economy with their spending on shopping and dining,” she said. “Our area is a prime destination.”
LeClair and her staff are courting Brazil and other Latin American countries to add to the list of other foreign visitors from Mexico, Canada, the U.K., Germany, France and China. International travelers make up about 12 percent of the county’s hotel occupants. Most, about 80 percent, are corporate and conference customers. Leisure travelers account for about 8 percent.
LeClair can’t claim all the credit for this good news but she has played a significant role in putting San Mateo County on the map, and bringing in more visitors, business and revenue. One of the first changes she made was charging hotels rather than the cities for the services of the convention bureau. She has a track record of being the first and stirring up the pot.
The San Mateo Chamber of Commerce was a do-nothing all-boys organization whose main project was lighting Christmas trees downtown. When longtime chamber head Ken Brown decided to retire, LeClair had recently settled in the area with her family and was looking for a job. A graduate of Georgetown University, she had previously worked as a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber in D.C. Before she married husband Jim, he was a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in 1966, the Denver Broncos in 1967-68 and the New York Giants in 1969. It was perfect training for keeping up with his bride.
LeClair applied for the job and Brown said it’s yours without much of a review. She wasn’t introduced to the board. When she asked wasn’t that necessary, she was told no. The next thing she knew there was a headline in the then San Mateo Times — “Chamber head forced out, picks his own successor, chamber board livid.” The chamber board met for a showdown with LeClair. Board member Dick DeLuna wanted to know why she was coming in through the back door. Others looked very unhappy with the new hire. Then LeClair launched into a presentation of where she would lead the organization. The board soon realized they had a home run.
The San Mateo chamber, under LeClair, became a major player in the city and attracted new members and new businesses. She was also the first woman to head the chamber. Now female chamber heads are the rule not the exception. Linda Asbury followed LeClair, and Cheryl Angeles is the current president and CEO.
LeClair was also the first woman, along with Barbara Evers of Borel Bank, to be allowed in the all male bastion of the San Mateo Rotary Club. That was in 1988. They were not welcomed by all and some men refused to sit with them. But it wasn’t too long before LeClair and Evers were elected as presidents of the club. LeClair was at the chamber for 14 years and next year will mark her 14th year as head of the convention and visitors bureau. She was also the first female head there. LeClair not only broke the glass ceiling. She shattered it. And no one could be happier than the guys who appointed her.
San Mateo’s new power couple — Anna and Jay Kuhre. She serves on the city’s Public Works Commission and is active in the San Mateo United Homeowners Association. He was just appointed to the Sustainability Commission. They join other power couples from the past: county supervisors Ed Bacciocco and Jackie Speier; Colma councilmembers Helen and Dennis Fisicaro; and Redwood City councilmembers Rosanne Foust and Jim Harnett.
I was complaining about food prices at the local grocery — milk, eggs, etc. The checker said dairy products were up because of the drought but he didn’t know about eggs. He asked another checked why. The reply. “The chickens got a raise.”
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.