By: Cara Campbell | From: Manchester Times

2022 was a banner year for the hospitality industry in San Antonio, Texas, generating an economic impact of 19 billion dollars. According to a study by Trinity University, that’s up 10% over the previous year, which also experienced a revenge travel bump. The tourist-oriented boom also added $262 million in tax revenues for the city.

"This is not only a win for our city, but a win for the citizens of San Antonio," said Ron Nirenberg, the Mayor of San Antonio. "The positive impact our tourism and hospitality industry has had on our local economy since the pandemic's start is tremendous. It showcases the remarkable efforts to tell San Antonio's story to the world."

While numbers leveled off a bit last year, dipping from the 34.8 million visitors, the city is confident 2024 will see more growth.

Launching Hospitality During COVID-19

During the pandemic, more than 100 new restaurants and a dozen new hotels opened in the city, according to Visit San Antonio. The industry's payroll now surpasses 2019 levels and is one of the top five economic drivers in the city. 

Marc Anderson, President and CEO of Visit San Antonio, says the city isn't taking its foot off the gas pedal in 2024. It plans to restore additional hospitality industry elements, like hotel occupancy rates and tourism-related jobs, back to pre-pandemic levels by year’s end. These numbers show that the city is on the right track. 

"The latest record-breaking news … is immensely gratifying and promises a bright future for our city and its residents,” Anderson says. 

Expanding the Offering

San Antonio has traditionally been a family destination, home to major parks like Six Flags and SeaWorld. However, the city has been working to expand its tourist appeal beyond its family-friendly accommodations.

San Antonio is broadening its public perception using its rich history and diversity as a springboard. In 2023, Hotel Emma received Tripadvisor Travelers' Choice Best of the Best Awards distinction as the top luxury destination in the U.S. The hotel sits within the Pearl Brewhouse, built by German beer baron Otto Koehler more than a century ago.

The stunning renovations kept much of the original architecture, feel, and even equipment that the brewhouse used, including fermentation tanks that now serve as soundproof private tables in the bar. Even its name comes from the somewhat notorious history of Otto Koehler’s wife, who took over operations after he had been murdered by his mistress, also named Emma.

A Culinary Mecca

San Antonio is also one of only two cities in the United States to receive a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy designation — the other being Tucson, Arizona.

The designation celebrates the innovative San Antonio culinary scene and its relationship with the city’s history, culture, and people.

"We are a city that values and maintains its authenticity while also being a city that invites new peoples, cultures, ideas, and innovations to create something uniquely San Antonio," says Colleen Swain, director of San Antonio's World Heritage Office

Swain says Indigenous people foraged for roots, harvested pecans, and hunted for game along the San Antonio River for more than 13,000 years. Starting in the 1700s, Spanish and other European colonists brought new flavors and techniques worldwide. As a result, the cuisine draws from multiple cultures, histories, and traditions. And the sum is greater than its parts.

Swain says such cultural blends are still visible in the culinary scene today and largely contribute to San Antonio’s unique dining experience. Diners can find everything from traditional Tex-Mex to Brazilian, Chinese, Nigerian, and curry. "… fusion is happening with everything from BBQ to tacos."

"You may know San Antonio for its trademark Tex-Mex, but you will find that we're a city with a diverse offering that ranges from classical international cuisine to fusions unlike anywhere else in the world." 

Native San Antonians and tourists alike are responding.

"What's really unique about San Antonio compared to other cities is that everyone has their own little spin on food," says Chef Lattoia Nicola Massey, who also goes by Nicola Blaque. She owns The Jerk Shack and Freight Fried Chicken, the former of which GQ named one of the country's best new restaurants in 2020. "You'll never find the same exact food." Whether you’re looking for the perfect steak, breakfast tacos, lobster ravioli, or empanadas, you’ll be able to find it.

Blaque says the community support of her restaurants has been astounding. Eager diners lined up outside her new Caribbean restaurant despite its location in an area almost exclusively dedicated to Mexican cuisine. 

Now, recognition from across the country is following. 

James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef and UNESCO ambassador Chef Sofia Tejada says that San Antonio is on its way to becoming one of the best culinary destinations in America. " … The city, its chefs, and food and culture are being showcased, respected, and admired. We love food, we love enjoying other cultures, we welcome other perspectives and backgrounds.”

And with 34 million visitors hitting the city in 2022 — a 10% increase over the previous year — the word is getting out to the rest of the world, too