San Antonio Missions National Historical Park brought more than $130 million in economic benefits to the local economy in 2018, according to a new National Park Service report.

The report found that the 1.2 million visitors in 2018 spent nearly $88 million in communities near the park, supporting 1,295 jobs in the area.

In the same time period, 318.2 million people visited national parks around the United States and spent $20.2 billion in surrounding regions. Visitors to national parks in Texas spent $303 million in 2018.

Missions Superintendent Mardi Arce said Tuesday that national park tourism returns $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service. Missions visitors contribute a significant portion of the San Antonio economy, she added.

“San Antonio Missions National Historical Park welcomes visitors from across the country and around the world,” Arce said in a news release. “We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides. We also feature the park as a way to introduce our visitors to south Texas and all that it offers.”

Like the rest of the country, most of the money spent around San Antonio Historical Missions Park went to hotels and restaurants. Missions visitors spent $35.3 million for lodging in the area and $21.3 million for food in 2018.

Though visitor numbers dropped by 170,000 between 2017 and 2018, visitor spending increased by $9 million and economic output – visitor spending plus secondary effects of that spending – increased by $23 million.

Richard Oliver serves as the director of partner and community relations at Visit San Antonio. He said in the six years that he’s worked with San Antonio’s marketing arm, he has seen a tremendous increase in visitors to the missions.

“Getting that World Heritage site designation for those missions was a monstrous achievement for the community,” Oliver said. “Now you’re starting to see the dividends of that. If nothing else, it’s shifted those missions into the spotlight and people are now aware of them and want to see what it’s all about. We already knew what jewels they were here in San Antonio, but now that people see beyond the Alamo, that there are these wonderful historical sites.”

Oliver said the missions are inextricably intertwined with tourism in San Antonio.

“The San Antonio missions are the heartbeat of the city,” he said. 

The NPS report authors found that spending at the San Antonio Historical Missions Park, which comprises missions Concepción, Espada, San José, and San Juan Capistrano, rose by 23 percent since the last economic benefits report.

The park previously relied on generalized visitor spending data from other NPS parks, but NPS now gathers visitor data to analyze its economic impact. The Missions park is one of 19 in the National Park System participating in a pilot project that collects visitor data during peak visiting season and develops long-term, scientific monitoring.

The new data also showed that missions visitors stayed longer in “gateway communities,” or municipalities just outside of the national parks, than was estimated in previous years.

“We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities,” Arce said in Monday’s news release.

Hundreds gathered in front of Mission San José during the Restored by Light event. Photo by Scott Ball.
Hundreds gather in front of Mission San José during a 2016 Restored by Light event. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said she wants to continue to encourage visitor growth to the missions.

“I still think we have a big opportunity, we’re still leaving money on the table with economic impact because I think we could bolster that even more,” she said. “I think what we need to do is share the message to all visitors in San Antonio to visit all the missions.”

She added that as San Antonio continues to develop, the City needs to keep the South Side in mind.

“When we’re intentional about the small businesses in the South Side and southern sector in the World Heritage area, we can help nurture and foster those small businesses so when people visit those missions, they’ll stay in the area, eat in the area, shop in the area,” Viagran said.

Nonprofit Mission Heritage Partners raises money to support the missions and has raised more than $4 million since its founding in 1984. Executive Director Rosebud Coffey said it was exciting to see such robust economic output stemming from the missions but that the numbers also reflect what San Antonians already suspected: that the missions continue to draw huge crowds to the city.

“I think it’s fantastic for San Antonio, but also these are things we’ve kind of known or had an idea about all along,” Coffey said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.