San Antonio’s tourism industry took a major hit in 2020 due to COVID-19. A citywide shutdown forced the cancellation of events and shuttering of businesses, and the loss of more than 250 conventions and meetings since the pandemic began has had a $410 million economic impact on the city. 

In recent months, San Antonio’s economy has been on the mend, said Richard Oliver, spokesman for Visit San Antonio. Local hotel room revenue for June came in at $119.4 million — just 2.6% behind the $122.5 million total in June 2019, Oliver said.

Though coronavirus case numbers were on the decline since vaccines became widely available in the U.S. in January, the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant has caused a spike in cases and hospitalizations locally and across the country. In the face of this “delta wave,” San Antonio hospitals are once again preparing for an influx of patients by returning to stricter policies.

As for the tourism industry, responses to the spread of the delta variant have been mixed.

People ride the Bugs’ White Water Rapids attraction at Six Flags Fiesta Texas on Saturday. The theme park was forced to cancel its popular Celebrity Fan Fest event due to a new surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant.
People ride the Bugs’ White Water Rapids attraction at Six Flags Fiesta Texas on Saturday. The theme park was forced to cancel its popular Celebrity Fan Fest event due to a new surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Several major events in the San Antonio area have been canceled in recent weeks. Celebrity Fan Fest, an annual 10-day pop culture festival, was canceled at the end of last month just a day before the event kicked off after headliners Owen Wilson, Ewan McGregor, and Hayden Christensen pulled out due to concerns about COVID-19. The event would have started July 30 and run through the end of this weekend. 

Organizers of the River Rodeo Fest also made the tough decision to cancel their inaugural event earlier this week. The new “music experience” is a one-day festival that was originally set for next Saturday. Festival-goers would have been able to float the Guadalupe River, camp, and enjoy live music in Gruene. Friday, festival organizers announced the inaugural festival has been moved to 2022. 

Despite these major event cancellations, other previously organized events are still taking place in San Antonio. Last month, San Antonio hosted a record 14,100 attendees at the annual Texas High School Coaches Association Coaching School and Conference, said Marc Anderson, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio

“As with all destinations, we’re keeping a close eye on the continuing rise in infections due to the delta variant,” Anderson told the San Antonio Report. “The development amplifies the need for people to get vaccinated and to continue responsible habits to safeguard against the COVID-19 pandemic, in all its forms. We have to work together as a community and country, so we don’t go back into lockdown.”

San Antonio is also hosting this year’s USA Taekwondo National Championships, which kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday. About 1,900 athletes were signed up to attend the event, said Jose Villalpando, marketing and communications manager for Team USA Taekwondo

The San Antonio native said it’s been great being back in his hometown and seeing so many people from all over the country experience Texas. With the event set months ago, there were plenty of discussions about COVID-19 precautions but no talks about possibly canceling the event, Villalpando said. 

Event attendees told the San Antonio Report Saturday they weren’t really that concerned about the delta variant and were enjoying their visit to San Antonio.

“We’re vaccinated,” said Simon Chu, whose 13-year-old daughter is competing in the championships. Chu, who is from Queens, said in comparison to New York, San Antonio has been a nice change of pace. 

“We weren’t worried about traveling or anything since we all got the shot,” said John Yi, whose 11-year-old son is also competing. Yi said he and his family flew in from Virginia for the event. “This is our first time in San Antonio, it seems nice, just really hot.”

Visit San Antonio has 30 more major meetings at the convention center on the books for the rest of the year, including about 100,000 attendees and more than $100 million in projected economic impact, Oliver said. San Antonio’s tourism figures are just starting to get back to pre-pandemic numbers, 18 months later, Oliver said. 

While there have been talks about how to help protect visitors against the delta variant (such as urging mask-wearing, encouraging hand washing, and pushing vaccinations), cancellations haven’t been discussed as of yet, Anderson said.

 “We must get back to business as usual for the sake of our economy and jobs,” Anderson said.“Fortunately, as we look ahead, to this point we have had no cancellations or postponements of future meetings due to the rise of the delta variant. While the spike in positive tests caused by the variant has been a part of every conversation we have with meeting planners, they recognize the proactive commitment to safety that San Antonio has shown and continues to follow.”

The biggest difference this time versus previous waves? We have a tool to fight back, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during a press conference Friday.

Standing side by side with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and White House Vaccinations Coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair, Nirenberg again asked residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Vaccines are available at no cost and on a walk-up basis at the Alamodome Wednesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Pharmacies such as H-E-BCVS, and Walgreens also offer the vaccine, along with pop-up clinics around San Antonio.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.