The welcome mat went out for 7 million more visitors to San Antonio last year than in 2015, the city’s tourism and hospitality industry announced Friday, serving up billions of dollars in economic impact.

Releasing results of a biennial study by local university professors, Visit San Antonio officials said the economic impact of the city’s hospitality industry in 2017 was $15.3 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion from two years before.

The San Antonio metropolitan area saw 37 million visitors last year – 7.3 million more than in 2015. The research, conducted by Trinity University professors Richard Butler and Mary Stefl, showed that tourism and hospitality remains one of the city’s strongest and largest industries.

By contrast, a study by the same professors recently found that San Antonio’s healthcare and bioscience industry had a $40 billion economic impact in 2017.

This year, a local economist projected that the NCAA Men’s Final Four hosted in San Antonio in 2018 would inject more than $185 million into the economy. But industry officials are also bracing for forthcoming years when a lack of such events, along with a lower number of convention bookings, means fewer visitors and tourism dollars.

“The reality is we’ve got some short-term goals, some long-term goals, because even though 2018 was a banner year, we also knew that 2019 and 2020 may be a little bit of a challenge,”said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio. “So a lot of our sales and marketing efforts are trying to fill those holes.”

Already, the organization has booked 130 meetings for those years, she said. “We’re starting to see the pendulum swing. But we also know that because our convention foundation is a little soft, we’re now going to have to beef up the leisure market.”

The visitor economic impact report also found that the tourism industry in 2017 contributed $213.7 million to City of San Antonio coffers in the form of taxes and fees.

A total of $419 million was generated for all local government entities, including school districts and Bexar County, among others – funds industry officials said helps support projects like improvements to the San Antonio River, amateur sports facilities, cultural arts, and historic preservation.

“Consider that many of the amenities and attractions that so many San Antonio residents enjoy each day are available to them due to the economic impact that visitors bring to the city,” Matej said.

The impact study showed that the hospitality industry employs 140,188 people, or one in seven employed in San Antonio. That’s an increase of approximately 9,400 workers from 2015. The annual payroll for those employees is $3.23 billion.

Of the 37 million annual visitors to the San Antonio metropolitan area, more than 30 million come for leisure travel. A total of 23 million were overnight visitors.

“We continually evaluate the health of our industry, and results continue to show steady growth,” stated Rusty Wallace, Visit San Antonio board chairman and area managing director of the Omni La Mansion Del Rio/Mokara Hotel and Spa. “This reinforces the ongoing value of tourism-focused economic development in San Antonio, the creation of thousands of hospitality jobs for our citizens, and the substantial contribution of tax revenues to local government.”

In June, City Council gave preliminary approval for local tourism and lodging officials to pursue the required petition signatures from hotel owners to support the effort and develop a San Antonio Tourism Public Improvement District (SATPID) service plan. The SATPID would generate funds for promoting San Antonio as a tourist destination, bolstering a flat tourism bureau budget caused when the Texas Legislature cut the state tourism budget in 2017. Council is set to vote on the SATPID Dec. 6.

“If council were to decide to go in a different direction, it would make us start the entire process over,” Matej said. “If we get approval, we will start activating the TPID in January. We won’t see dollars we can use until April. So we’ve got to turn around and – so we can impact the summer of 2019 – do all our marketing buys … it took months to get these signatures so it could really impact our 2019 and 2020.”

Started 2002, the economic impact study is commissioned by Visit San Antonio, the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association, and the San Antonio Restaurant Association.

“We are proud to work with our industry partners to highlight the tremendous impact this industry has on job creation and the economic stability of our city and our region,” stated Liza Barratachea, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...