Transportation and connectivity are vital for tourism in San Antonio. How our 37 million annual guests comfortably navigate the city’s more than 400 square miles of landscape, with its diversity of attractions, is a critical part of the overall visitor experience.

The mechanism for doing that, from improved infrastructure to exploring new technologies, will become even more important as we move forward, thanks to increased population – and visitation – numbers.

That symbiotic relationship was highlighted earlier this month when it was announced that Jeff Arndt, president and CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit, has been named chairman of the board of Visit San Antonio, the sales and marketing arm of the community.

In succeeding hotelier Rusty Wallace in that role, Arndt brings a unique and necessary perspective to the focus on sustaining and strengthening the third-largest industry in the city, the $15.2 billion tourism and hospitality sector. There’s little doubt that a modern transportation system, with multiple trip options, equates to expanded tourism opportunities.

Arndt and VIA will be major players in that. In 2016, the transit service launched a new series of specially branded bus routes that support the hospitality industry. Three VIVA routes connect many of the city’s celebrated historic, cultural and entertainment destinations, including the Spanish colonial missions that make up Texas’ only World Heritage Site. To date, those routes have delivered more than 1 million passenger trips.

Of that number, VIA’s lines have also helped some of the visitor industry’s more than 140,000 workers get to where they need to be each day. Fittingly, that includes more than 8,800 who work in the transportation and travel sector. Overall, one of every seven employed San Antonians works in tourism and hospitality, earning $3.23 billion in annual payroll.

When accepting the chairman’s role with Visit San Antonio, Arndt reiterated his commitment to “connect our region.” That work, he added in a VIA news release, can “help position our city for continued economic development.”

He’s right, and that’s part of a larger vision that will play out in coming months under Mayor Ron Nirenberg and his platform for comprehensive transportation reform, “ConnectSA.” That group, created in 2018, has come forward with various transportation strategies for a community that has proven reluctant to adequately address or prioritize transit needs in the past.

ConnectSA’s initial recommendations include innovative modes of travel, an advanced rapid transit system, and smart transit options that use technology for a better customer experience. San Antonio, one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, is in increasing need of the kinds of mobility systems that give consumers, whether local or visiting, various options and technologies to utilize.

If residents give the nod to support the system plan as it is laid out in coming months, it will doubtless include work done for VIA’s Vision 2040, an update to the Long Range Comprehensive Transportation Plan. Vision 2040 and the new VIA Reimagined plan target areas where growth and continued congestion will require rapid transit corridors, high-frequency VIA service and other development opportunities.

As San Antonio’s tourism landscape similarly expands, including added sites and events, that attention to seamless and easy transportation options intersecting the city, whether through VIA’s strategic routes, ride sharing, or other avenues pursued through ConnectSA, will be invaluable.

After all, San Antonio welcomed 7 million more visitors in 2018 than it did in 2014. All of them hope to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and conveniently as possible.

As chair of the Visit San Antonio board, comprised of hospitality industry influencers, politicians and business leaders, Arndt will be at the steering wheel of important discussions about the connection between transportation and tourism.

That connectivity is about “bringing together the people, places and events that make San Antonio a unique destination,” he said in his release. As we move forward, that commitment will be more vital than ever.

Casandra Matej

Casandra Matej is president and CEO of Visit San Antonio.