The group that promotes San Antonio tourism and an organization that promotes one of its most visited attractions are merging.

After nearly a yearlong battering of the tourism industry, officials with Visit San Antonio and the San Antonio River Walk Association have agreed to integrate the two organizations, according to a statement from Visit SA. The merger will be coordinated by Visit SA over the next several weeks.

The River Walk Association and Visit San Antonio see this opportunity “as a positive combination of resources and areas of expertise to elevate the experience and promotion of the River Walk,” said the statement. 

“It started with conversations at the staff level about how Visit San Antonio and the Riverwalk Association could partner, and over time, it became what it is,” said Visit SA board Chairman Jeffrey Arndt. “Their board agreed to it at a meeting last Friday, I believe, and our board agreed to it at a meeting [Tuesday] morning.”

The announcement follows the recent news that Visit San Antonio’s CEO, Casandra Matej, planned to step down this week to take a similar job in Orlando after a difficult year for San Antonio’s third-largest industry and for tourism nationwide. 

In December, Matej told City Council that San Antonio’s $15 billion travel industry will recover, but likely not until 2023 or later. More than 250 conventions and meetings cancellations had begun suddenly and unexpectedly in March, and in May, Visit SA furloughed about half its 83-member staff. The remaining employees saw reductions in their salaries. 

The city reduced its payments to the organization in 2020 and cut its 2021 budget by $10 million.

The River Walk Association got its start in 1964, formed as the Paseo del Rio Association and staffed with one individual funded by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. 

Today, the organization, renamed in 2017, is responsible for dozens of events on the extended linear parkway with Maggie Thompson as executive director, and a board of directors led by Maria Martinez, general manager of the Westin Riverwalk Hotel. Under the agreement, Thompson will become an employee of Visit SA, Arndt said.

In 2019, the River Walk Association, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, had $1.5 million in revenue from events and membership dues and $515,114 in assets, according to its most recent tax filing. Visit SA is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit.

Some details of the merger haven’t been determined. Those questions will be answered over the next several weeks, Arndt said.

But Visit SA’s bylaws have been amended to add a seat on the board for a representative of the River Walk, he added, and an advisory committee associated with the River Walk will be formed.

“We certainly understand that the River Walk is the No. 1 destination in the state of Texas for visitors and so very important for the mission of Visit San Antonio,” he said. “I think that anytime we can combine resources and leverage each other’s strengths to the benefit of the entire tourism industry in the city and specifically for our crown jewel, the River Walk, is a good thing.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.