The results of a 2015 economic impact study of San Antonio’s tourism and hospitality industry was released on Tuesday, showing a 50% increase in economic impact over the past 10 years at $13.6 billion for the San Antonio economy.

San Antonio tourism workers, event managers, and City officials gathered at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center‘s Stars of Texas Ballroom Tuesday to review the study during Visit San Antonio (VSA)’s annual meeting, its first as a nonprofit.

Trinity University Professor Emeritus Richard Butler, one of the economists who conducted the economic impact survey, said that the study compiled data from the Texas Workforce Commission and the U.S. Census. The study shows that there were 18.2 million overnight visitors to Bexar County in 2015, which contributed $195 million in taxes and fees to the city, and $375 million to all of the local governments combined.

The study also showed that the tourism and hospitality industry employs 130,796 individuals in San Antonio, making up one-eighth of the city’s workforce. The industry has quadrupled in size since 1990. The economists also calculated that every dollar a visitor spends generates an additional dollar of income for the local economy.

VSA Executive Director Casandra Matej told the Rivard Report that the entity’s main goal for the coming year is facilitating a smooth transition from being a City-managed group – the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) – to an independent nonprofit and looking for new sources of revenue.

“Our primary funding source will continue to be the hotel occupancy tax,” she said. “But it will be important to grow that base so we can compete with the growing budgets of Houston, Dallas, and Austin.”

The new Visit San Antonio logo that was unveiled at the 2016 annual meeting.
The new Visit San Antonio logo that was also unveiled at the 2016 annual meeting.

When questioned on how the board will adapt from a River Walk-based marketing plan to incorporate attractions at the Pearl, Southtown, and other areas, Matej said that VSA has been enacting a plan for the past two years.

“Based on the research we’re finding, the Millennials are starting to have families,” she said. “Those (families) are going to be of interest to San Antonio. We are a family-friendly destination. And through our partnerships with organizations throughout San Antonio, we’ll be able to tell their stories even better.”

Matej added that, while there are no representatives on the organization’s inaugural board of directors from newer attractions like the Pearl, their voices will be heard through Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), who represents much of the Broadway corridor, and Michael Cortez, the downtown restauranteur who has put together an advisory board of chefs from all areas of the city.

At the meeting, Mayor Ivy Taylor touted the reformed organization as vital to the strength of San Antonio and credited the transition team for enduring the months of work to make it happen.

“The hospitality industry in San Antonio is vital on so many levels and we made the necessary moves to ensure its long term strength. This industry that each of you contribute to is one of the top five economic engines in our community,” Taylor said. “That’s why I was so supportive of the move to make the (CVB) into a private entity, putting it in line with the other major destination management organizations in the country.”

The structure of the organization combined with the expanding base of tourism assets in San Antonio, Taylor added, will make it better prepared to compete against regional competitors like Austin and Houston in the future.

VSA also awarded the Robert H.H. Hugman Award for an outstanding contribution to the tourism and hospitality industry to Kit Goldsbury, the San Antonio billionaire who’s firm, Silver Ventures, made the Pearl Brewery what it is today after purchasing the empty property in 2002.

In a panel made up of Butler, San Antonio Spurs Vice President of Sales and Franchise Business Frank Miceli, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, Atkins Group President Steve Atkins, and Westin Riverwalk General Manager Bill Petrella, Miceli talked about the oft-forgotten importance of gaining repeat, word of mouth, and corporate business.

“When you look at the VSA team, their goal is to look at all of the industry sectors and bring large meetings and conventions to this city,” Miceli said. “In turn, those attendees are here for a handful of days and they’re experiencing everything this great city has to offer. Many times, those attendees will revisit with their families on vacation. Even better yet, some of those people will move their companies here.”

The panelists also agreed that San Antonio’s foothold in the biomedical, military, and tech industries provides a unique opportunity to beat out regional competitors for tourism dollars in the future.

To view a full list of the newly-appointed board members of Visit San Antonio, click here.

James McCandless

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.