Many may not be familiar with Visit San Antonio, or its mission to sell and market our city as a destination for conventions, family reunions, vacations, and all sorts of other gatherings. The reason for this is simple: The selling and marketing occurs outside of the city, and the resulting visitation doesn’t generally have a direct impact on the average citizen. What does impact us all is the economic activity these visitors create, which results in jobs, sales taxes, and in some cases the relocation of a new company to our community.

Those of us in the tourism and hospitality industry know all too well that Visit San Antonio, the former Convention & Visitors Bureau, is doing the work of convincing people to visit San Antonio in an environment where the competition for visitor dollars has never been tougher.

While the communities we compete with have been growing their marketing budgets exponentially, San Antonio’s marketing budget has remained essentially flat.  In fact, for several years now the budget Visit San Antonio has available to sell its destination has hovered in the low $20 million range. By contrast, cities like Houston and Dallas have built their budgets to more than $30 million, allowing them to cut into what was once San Antonio’s dominance as the destination of choice in Texas.

This new competitive landscape was part of the motivation, in the fall of 2016, for Visit San Antonio to emerge from being a city department to become a public-private nonprofit. Operating as a business gives us greater flexibility and improves our speed-to-market capability as we search for new business. A membership system has been developed that helped grow the budget by a little more than $1 million, but much more is needed. The Tourism Public Improvement District, better known as a TPID, is the means to secure the funding needed to compete effectively.

A TPID – managed by hoteliers and not the city – makes sense on several levels: It would in no way impact the city budget or require city funds. It requires approval by a vote of the majority of hotel owners, allowing hotels to self-assess a nominal fee of 1.25 percent of the hotel room rate, to supplement Visit San Antonio’s sales, marketing, and promotional efforts. TPIDs are already in place in more than 160 destinations nationwide, as well as in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington.

The City Council on Thursday will consider the first step in implementing the
TPID. Council approval will allow the matter to go to the hotel community to
decide if they are willing to support the effort. Hopefully, City Council will approve the formation of the TPID and allow the hotels to enact it expeditiously.

The result is estimated to be an additional $10 million in marketing dollars, at no
cost to San Antonio residents. That money, invested in promoting San Antonio,
will be returned multiple times over in the form of new visitors. Indeed,
according to studies, most places see a return on investment of $7 to every $1 of
marketing expense.

The impact of more visitation not only benefits the economy, it also improves the quality of life for all San Antonians. More hotel guests equal more hotel occupancy tax or HOT. In fiscal year 2018, the HOT is expected to contribute more than $10 million to arts and culture programs and another $10 million to historic preservation in our city.

Add it up, and a TPID spurs more job creation, increases revenue for public
coffers through sales taxes and improves quality of life for residents, while
allowing us to compete more effectively in spreading the word about Texas’ most
historic, authentic, and welcoming destination.

Rusty Wallace

Rusty Wallace, an executive with Omni Hotels in San Antonio, is chairman of the Visit San Antonio board of directors.