The Tricentennial float towers over the parade before it begins.
The Tricentennial float towers over the King William parade before it begins. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio has been sending out invitations far and wide for months now as it plans the city’s 300th birthday party, with some of the biggest events to commemorate the milestone happening this week.

The invitations came via parade floats, magazine covers, billboards, TV ads, and more as the local visitors bureau dedicated the majority – about $3.5 million – of its annual ad budget to get the word out to potential tourists about San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebration.

“We have integrated the Tricentennial messaging in everything we do during this year,” Visit San Antonio spokesman Richard Oliver said in an email.

“As we’re promoting the city, everything along with that has involved promoting the 300th as a major backdrop. These efforts are incorporated into our advertising placement, media buys, collateral, digital and social media platforms, as well as public relations efforts.”

A study released in December 2016 estimated that Tricentennial celebrations throughout 2018 would have a nearly $120 million impact on San Antonio’s economy. Tricentennial Commission officials, along with then-Mayor Ivy Taylor and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, said the year’s events would help raise awareness of the city across the nation and around the globe.

Steven Nivin, chief economist of the SABER Research Institute, estimated the celebrations would create 1,300 new jobs, bring 263,000 more visitors in 2018, $4 million in tax revenue for Bexar County and the City, $8 million in in-kind media coverage, and $45 million worth of generated wages and benefits.

Media coverage came in many forms. Last month, the cover of the May issue of Texas Monthly featured prominent San Antonio artist Cruz Ortiz and Mission Concepción, plus a story by local author Jan Jarboe Russell titled, “San Antonio is the Mother of Texas,” one about the city’s most accomplished families by longtime San Antonio Express-News columnist Cary Clack, and other features on Rackspace co-founder Graham Weston, Pearl Developer Kit Goldsbury, and Spurs legend Tim Duncan.

Rivard Report Publisher Robert Rivard penned a 500-word essay, “The Alamo is Still Under Siege.”

Visit SA “planted the seed” for these stories several years ago with the magazine’s former editor, Oliver said, and more recently provided information to support “the national magazine of Texas’” focus on the San Antonio.

Texas Monthly’s media sales kit shows it has a readership of 2.3 million, and unique visitors to its website number 1.1 million. Top markets for the glossy magazine are Houston, Dallas, and Austin.

San Antonio’s 300th also showed up last October among 15 other floats during the Texas State Fair’s nightly Starlight Parade in Dallas, considered San Antonio’s most lucrative drive-market target. The float, bearing the Tricentennial logo, appeared nightly for two weeks in the parade as Big Tex presided over the celebration of all things Texas.

More than 2 million attended the fair, and 128,000 “dots” were placed on a map for visitors to pinpoint their hometowns, which represented locations all over the world.

This spring, the 97 million college basketball fans around the country who tuned in to watch the NCAA Men’s Final Four, held March 30 through April 2, or the ones who watched the Valero Texas Open, which took place April 1-7, were invited to visit San Antonio with colorful ads and the line, “Legend has it that Texas was made in San Antonio. But we encourage you to do your own research.”

Rigoberto Luna installs the decals on the doors of the new Tricentennial merchandise shop at Centro de Artes.
Rigoberto Luna installs the decals on the doors of the new Tricentennial merchandise shop at Centro de Artes. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In addition, Oliver said, “Broadcasters, alerted in part by our reach-outs, told viewers about this special time in our history.”

Closer to home, retired teacher Sandra Jones, who lives on the far Northside and hails from New Orleans, a city also celebrating its Tricentennial this year, said she is only “somewhat” aware of Commemorative Week events here. Jones said she is perhaps more knowledgable about her hometown’s birthday events, and friends’ and family’s Facebooks posts have a lot to do with that. The prospect of crowds in downtown San Antonio is what will keep her from venturing into the center city to join in Tricentennial activities.

Because Tricentennial marketing has been ongoing, it’s too early to say exactly how many visitors the event has attracted to San Antonio, or even the total economic impact of their stays, Oliver said.

“However, we know anecdotally that San Antonio has enjoyed a wonderful 2018 for visitation, driven by a strong spring break, conference and meetings schedules, and the Final Four,” he added.

The San Antonio International Airport experienced 10.6 percent passenger growth in March 2018 over the same month a year ago, with a record 848,233 total passengers flying through the airport last month. Much of that was due to the Final Four, according to the latest monthly statistics report from Aviation Director Russ Handy. But capacity increases by most of domestic carriers as well as new routes on Frontier and American airlines also contributed to the growth.

An online search Sunday by the Rivard Report of several major hotel brands in the downtown area showed vacancies remain for nights during Commemorative Week. In addition to Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton hotel chains in the center city, Starwood hotels, LaQuinta Inns, Holiday Inn, and Airbnb also had available rooms and rentals at regular rates.

“Next week we are busy, but it has more to do with group business rather than anything to do with the Tricentennial,” Robert Thrailkill, general manager at Hilton Palacio del Rio, wrote in an email Friday. “The only demand I have actually seen is from locals attending the [Founder’s] Gala on [May] 4.”

But Thrailkill, an honorary member the 14-person Tricentennial Commission board, said he is certain that the hotel industry in San Antonio is benefitting from all the birthday promotions.

“People know that this is our Tricentennial and want to enjoy our sights and celebrations. At the end of this year, the Tricentennial will be a net positive for our community and industry,” he said.

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.