These are complicated times for the tourism and hospitality sector in Texas. The State Legislature, in what has been a contentious and wearying session, is considering or has passed a handful of bills or amendments that carry direct impact on one of the state’s most economically impactful industries.
Some of that impact may be long-term and damaging.
The most recent occurred just a few weeks ago with the passage of the “Sanctuary Cities” bill, or SB4. The legislation, which sparked harsh and emotional debate in both the House and Senate, is regarded by many as discriminatory and intimidating as an immigration-enforcement tool.
Additionally, the move last week by the House to pass a K-12 bathroom bill, though it doesn’t directly affect facilities used by leisure or business visitors, nevertheless reiterates what we in the hospitality industry know all too well: stubborn perception is troublesome reality.
All of this, plus the worrisome discourse in Austin over allowing an earlier start date for Texas schools, which would cost the San Antonio area alone about $44 million per week, has made this legislative session a marathon of apprehension.
As a result, Visit San Antonio and the city’s hospitality partners have been – and will remain – vocal opponents to any moves that will negatively affect our industry. Our message, delivered persistently to any and all, hasn’t wavered: San Antonio’s longstanding history shows it to be a city of inclusion, authentic warmth, and family atmosphere.
What occurs in the state’s capital isn’t going to change that.
San Antonio, one of the most popular tourism destinations in the state, welcomes more than 34.4 million visitors a year to its metro area, resulting in a $13.6 billion economic impact. A significant slice of that total arrives each year from Mexico, by far our top international partner for travel. Those travelers, already feeling pressured by the confrontational mood of today’s national political climate, now eye legislation such as SB4 with heightened trepidation.
To this point, we’ve had four groups express concerns about the “Sanctuary Cities” bill, including some with strong international representation that are worried about feeling comfortable in Texas. These organizations, which together are projected to fill nearly 50,000 hotel rooms and generate $27.5 million, are set to arrive in San Antonio in 2018 and beyond.
These jitters come in concert with continuing nervousness regarding the potential “bathroom bill” legislation that is also viewed as discriminatory and threatening. San Antonio has lost two groups to concerns over just the discussion of the SB6 legislation, costing the city almost $3 million in forecast revenue, and there are nine more groups that have notified Visit San Antonio they will not travel to Texas if that kind of bill is passed. In total, it’s almost $40 million in potential lost economic impact.
But in fighting to protect the travel industry, Visit San Antonio does have some valuable allies in the city and in Austin.
Chief of Police William McManus and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar have been outspoken against SB4 and those types of legislation. Indeed, the City of San Antonio has indicated that in the 2018 budget cycle, there may be additional funds for pro bono legal aid for immigration services for residents within the community.
San Antonio has had a robust non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) in place since 2013. It should be, and is, enough to protect the people who reside in, and visit, our city. Indeed, our city remains welcoming, compassionate, and diverse.
That, simply, is the foundation upon which San Antonio’s third-biggest industry is built.
From its peaceful, manicured River Walk to the time-worn façades of its historic World Heritage Site missions, San Antonio is inviting. Safe and friendly, it is the kind of city that treats its visitors like family, a trait as ingrained in us as a love for breakfast tacos and Fiesta.
Each day, our potential leisure and business travelers hear that message from Visit San Antonio.
In these complicated times, it is as vital as ever.