That San Antonio is a remarkable destination has been demonstrated, year after year, by the number of tourists who have flocked to our community. Last year alone, we attracted nearly 40 million visitors, including more than 70 percent driving in from within the state’s borders.

This year, however, those numbers will change. COVID-19 has battered our community’s important tourism and hospitality industry in recent months, affecting everything from visitation numbers to the livelihoods of many of the more than 140,000 who have been employed in the travel sector.

It’s why the slogan of National Travel and Tourism Week, which is happening this week, particularly resonates this year. The theme, tabbed the “Spirit of Travel,” acknowledges the strength and resilience of our industry and its people. Both will play an integral part in the rehabilitation of our economy.

With that in mind, Visit San Antonio, along with the U.S. Travel Association and others associated with tourism and hospitality, has worked in recent days to impress upon policy-makers that the well-being of our sector is crucial to this country’s recovery. It’s particularly true in San Antonio, where the visitor economy has ranked third in the city at $15.2 billion generated annually.

Clearly, we won’t hit that number in 2020. But looking to the future, it’s our remarkable city that will drive the coming recovery. 

For weeks, the pandemic has shuttered so many of the places that we hold dear, including family attractions, museums, cultural and historical sites, and restaurants. Yet, that forced absence has spurred a new appreciation for just how beautiful and special San Antonio is. While the outbreak has been damaging on so many levels, limiting our human interactions and commerce, it has provided perspective about the quality of life we all enjoy in this city.

With that in mind, we as an industry are encouraged by the tactical, thoughtful reopening of some businesses around the state, per Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order. While the rollout of openings doesn’t yet include many of the attractions that are so important to San Antonio and its tourism landscape, the light at the end of this long tunnel is a welcome sight.

When the time is right, and those doors are opened, many of us will regard our community through fresh eyes. Here at Visit San Antonio, where our mission statement is, “Bringing the World to San Antonio,” we’ll soon be inviting locals and our drive-market audience to enjoy the destination all over again.

Doing so safely will, of course, be a priority. The release this week of the city’s Economic Transition Team guidelines for safely opening businesses was a major step forward. The 56-page report includes plans for safety and health protocols that the team recommends San Antonio and Bexar County businesses commit to upholding. This will include those sites following a pledge (“Greater. SAfer. Together.”) that aims to protect employees and customers and instill community confidence.

More than many cities, that will be vital for San Antonio’s economy. Before the cataclysmic arrival of this outbreak, the tourism and hospitality industry here employed 1 in every 7 working residents. Rehabilitating our economy will hinge, in large part, on getting those folks back to work. That residents and tourists feel comfortable and secure will be a vital cog in that happening.

Visit San Antonio and its partners have already been preparing for the weeks ahead as the city carefully begins opening for business again. It has meant pivoting our marketing attention from international and national outreach to that “staycation” and our drive-market audience, being cognizant that travelers’ immediate concerns over the crowds of busy transport hubs, cleanliness and safety will encourage close-to-home experiences.

While the COVID-19 outbreak has represented something unique in all of our lifetimes, Americans have historically turned to travel as a way to find relief and a resurrection of spirit after a disaster or major disruption. Texans confined over these past few weeks will seek fresh air, companionship, and the familiar locations that speak to normalcy.

San Antonio, long a favored destination of the state’s travelers, reigns as that generational, comfortable, and safe destination.

That will be true even for those of us who live here. Soon enough, we’ll emerge from this quarantine and find San Antonio waiting as it always has – beautiful, welcoming, and full of unique and disparate experiences.

Casandra Matej

Casandra Matej is president and CEO of Visit San Antonio.