By: Dave Krupinksi, For the Express-News
April 9, 2021
The first anniversary of the arrival of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic was recently recognized, marked by somber reflection; the past year has been a miserable marathon for most, personally and professionally.
Yet as we continue the gradual climb toward recovery, one thing remains as certain as it did 13 months ago: We’re still San Antonio — and that’s a powerful reality.
Beautiful and charming, authentic and cultural, our community has endured like a lighthouse weathering a season of storms. And that means so much as we consider the future.
It is especially true when it comes to the tourism and hospitality sector, which in 2019 generated $15.2 billion in economic impact, making it the third-largest industry in our community. That number has been drastically affected since last spring, of course, and only recently have the trends for visitation and spending begun to rebound in San Antonio.
As Texans emerge from stay-home orders and self-quarantines, newly vaccinated and eager to venture out again, look for San Antonio to stand as the generational, familiar destination for travelers and “staycationing” residents.
More than 70 percent of our annual visitation comes from inside the state, and that number likely will grow in the short term. Studies show the top concern for visitors in choosing a destination now is safety. Time and again in recent years, travelers to San Antonio have told us they love coming to our city because it’s warm and accommodating.
Simply, they feel treated like family.
That has never been more important than now. The “Greater. SAfer. Together.” pledge, accessible on the Visit San Antonio website, now includes more than 2,300 businesses that have promised to follow proactive safety measures for employees and guests.
A similar focus will help drive Visit San Antonio’s strategy in positioning our media advertising dollars in coming months. We’ll pursue long-standing, loyal Texas consumers, reminding them of San Antonio’s commitment to their welfare.
The U.S. Travel Association calls what’s coming next “Travel’s Next Great Chapter,” and it’s fitting. Travel has helped spur economic recovery previously, such as after the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 financial crisis, the BP oil spill and so many natural disasters.
MMGY Global, the world’s leading integrated marketing company tied to the visitor industry, has become bullish on the future of travel worldwide. According to the company, potential travelers are beginning to examine ways “that allow a connection and authentic experience that acts as a salve for the sense of deprivation in 2020, both in leisure and business settings.”
MMGY estimates savings for individuals and families stuck in place for months are at historic peaks — estimated at more than $2 trillion across U.S. households.
Travel defines the American spirit, our sense of wonder and adventure. But consider that a year ago, wary and homebound Americans left 33 percent of their paid time off on the table. Soon enough, vaccinations, herd immunity and safety protocols that have become the norm will instill confidence in traveling again, even if it’s not far from home.
The travel sector has historically employed 1 of every 7 workers in San Antonio. Those numbers have been impacted dramatically over the past year, but there are signs of recovery.
There has been growth in hotel occupancy and hospitality employment tied to a March and April that include a terrific spring break, the UIL Boys and Girls Basketball Tournament, Valero Texas Open and the women’s NCAA Tournament and Final Four.
Entering April, we had more than 45 conferences scheduled through the end of the year, representing 177,000 attendees and $142 million in economic impact.
We’re a long way from normal, but events and travelers are coming back, and Visit San Antonio is eyeing a projected resurgence in tourism numbers over the summer.
The reason is a familiar one, even after a year of pain and suffering: We’re still San Antonio — and that’s a remarkable place to be.
Dave Krupinski is the Interim President and CEO of Visit San Antonio.