As San Antonio’s battered travel industry emerges from a more than yearlong pandemic stagnation, the new CEO of Visit San Antonio this week announced a 100-day plan to boost its recovery.
CEO Marc Anderson, who took office June 1 after leaving a similar Chicago-based organization, said San Antonio has “unlimited potential” as a travel destination for corporations and tourists.
The city has already seen sunny numbers on key indicators for a rebound in its travel economy.
Some tourism attractions pulled record-setting revenue over Memorial Day Weekend, while the average hotel occupancy rate – 61.4% in April, according to Visit San Antonio – marks a doubling over the rate last year.
It also beats the rates of many other competing destinations across the state and country, including Orlando, where the average occupancy rate in April was 57.8%.
Recovery for the leisure side of the industry is widely expected to accelerate as the summer travel season begins. The U.S. Travel Association reports that Americans have $1.7 trillion in unspent discretionary income accumulated during the pandemic.
Hoping to catch those winds, Visit San Antonio is running a marketing blitz to promote the city during Fiesta and the coming months.
“The key to our recovery is focusing on the 40 million people that can drive into San Antonio,” Anderson said, referring to residents of Texas and some surrounding states.
The nonprofit organization, which is funded by hotel occupancy taxes, recently launched a marketing campaign called Sí San Antonio to promote that short-term demand.
Until Sept. 6, travelers can use the Visit San Antonio website to book nights in one of more than 80 participating hotels. Those visitors will be given access to a mobile pass offering special deals and discounts at restaurants, museums, and other attractions throughout the city. The deals include 20% off the price of a tour at Natural Bridge Caverns, free admission at Howl at the Moon San Antonio, and a free half-hour of bowling and a giant pretzel at Bowl & Barrel.
A portion of the proceeds from hotels booked through the program goes to the San Antonio Food Bank.
Anderson said he expects Sí San Antonio to become a “staple marketing campaign for the city.” Since its launch on May 24, around 450 people have downloaded the QR code associated with it.
Other campaigns will focus on key storylines, such as highlighting the city as the “culinary capital of Texas.” In addition to the Culinary Institute of America located at the Pearl, San Antonio is also designated as a Cultural City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, the cultural wing of the United Nations.
Though it is not in the 100-day plan, in the long term Anderson said he also wants to draw more visitors from Europe and Asia.
“International travelers want to come to the United States, but they [want to go to] a destination that is real, that is authentic,” he said. “Our history, our heritage, our culture, our diversity, speaks to that.”
While he sees the potential to attract international visitors, a more immediate concern for Anderson is developing new strategies to win corporate meetings and sporting events in the next several years.
Corporate meetings and business gatherings are the lifeblood of San Antonio’s hotels and downtown restaurants on weekdays, but business travel has recovered much less quickly than leisure.
Nearly 300 citywide and in-house meetings totaling more than 722,000 in attendance were canceled through 2020 and 2021. Visit San Antonio estimates the lost economic impact at more than $476 million. No large-scale meetings have been canceled in the last two months, the organization said.
Through 2021, 37 conventions are still on the books, netting an estimated economic impact of $110 million. An additional 17 major groups have confirmed postponed dates from gatherings that were delayed earlier, which Visit San Antonio says could be worth as much as $47 million in economic impact.
Another factor hampering the recovery is the continuing difficulty some hotels and service sector businesses are having in finding applicants to fill open positions. Many businesses made layoffs during the pandemic.
Visit San Antonio is hosting a job fair at the Alamodome on June 23, in partnership with Workforce Solutions Alamo and the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association.
For all the efforts to jumpstart San Antonio’s travel industry, Anderson himself said he hasn’t yet seen many of the city’s attractions since moving from Chicago last month.
“I’ve spent a lot of the past few weeks just working and trying to put plans in place,” he said.