The San Antonio Missions, including Mission San José (pictured) broke a fiancial impact record held for almost a decade, generating more than $160 million in 2021.
The San Antonio Missions, including Mission San José (pictured) broke a fiancial impact record held for almost a decade, generating more than $160 million in 2021. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park last year generated its biggest economic impact in at least nine years, drawing an estimated $165 million into the area through visitor spending and job wages, reports the National Park Service.

An estimated 1.3 million visitors in 2021 spent $104 million in areas near the park sites, which in turn supported 1,640 jobs, according to an analysis from economists at the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey released this week.

That estimated visitor spending was up 23% over 2020, with lodging getting the most money, followed by restaurants and retail. The reported number of jobs marked a 24% increase over 2020.

The total estimated economic output of $165 million is the highest since 2012, the earliest year for which estimates are readily available, when the park service estimated the financial impact at $41.9 million.

The Southside park includes missions Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada. It does not include the Alamo, which is managed by the Alamo Trust.

Parts of the four missions, all located along the San Antonio River, are owned by the Archdiocese of San Antonio and are still run as parishes.

It was established as a national park in 1983. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, designated the park and the Alamo a World Heritage site in 2015 — the only one in Texas.

Former city Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who was influential in pushing for the UNESCO designation, said an expected increase in tourism and local jobs was a large part of the conversation at the time. “This is exactly what we had hoped for,” she said.

She said the area will continue to receive public investments, such as from the $1.2 billion bond passed in May. “People know more visitors are coming,” she said.

Visit San Antonio, the city’s tourism bureau, has for years marketed the heritage site as a destination and a central part of San Antonio’s story. The organization’s president and CEO, Marc Anderson, called the park a “living monument to the birth of San Antonio” in a prepared statement.

“The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is one of the key cultural, historical and tourism assets of our city,” he said, adding that its tourism impact is felt across the South Side and the city as a whole.

Across Texas, visitors to national parks spent an estimated $371 million last year.

While San Antonio’s missions are enjoying a higher economic impact than the years leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, other national parks have not seen the same recovery. Across the country, national parks generated $20.5 billion in 2021 — still half a billion dollars short of 2019 figures.

Visitor tallies reflect this trend. In 2019, 327 million visitors traveled to national parks, but in 2021 that number was only 297 million. San Antonio’s missions, on the other hand, saw more visitors in 2021 than they did in the years before the pandemic.

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.