Visit San Antonio Takes Charge

by Rosie Carbo /
Rosie Carbo's picture
Nov 09, 2016 / 0 comments

Ask any visitor why they chose to vacation in San Antonio and they’ll likely say: the Alamo, the beautiful River Walk, or to savor Mexican-style food while listening to a roving Mariachi band.

Visit San Antonio Takes Charge

But now, the city wants to shed its old image and become a new, more global International Destination. That’s why the newly-established Visit San Antonio nonprofit, semiprivate organization was formed.

The clarion call for a new and improved San Antonio was heard by a throng of professionals from the restaurant, hotel, and hospitality industry at VSA’s inaugural meeting, held in the renovated Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center recently.

Several speakers said the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city department that traditionally had promoted San Antonio, could no longer continue. So the restructured organization was created to replace it.

“After months of careful consideration, it was the right thing to do,” Mayor Ivy Taylor, the city’s first African-American mayor, told a crowd of more than 200 attendees, including public relations professionals.

“San Antonio is the state’s top tourism, but the new organization can be more nimble, making San Antonio the engine it needs to be,”said Taylor, who formed a 13-member task force in 2015 in order to determine whether the transformation was justified.

One reason given for converting the city’s long-held public relations arm into a public-private organization was lack of necessary funding needed to invest in improvements. While the city had a $20 million budget, it was $10 million less than competitors such as Houston, Dallas, and other major cities.

San Antonio already attracts some 34.4 million tourists annually. But since the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named the city’s five Spanish colonial missions “World Heritage Sites,” efforts have been stepped up to prepare for an onslaught of visitors from around the world.

Visit San Antonio Takes Charge

Most of those who love to travel don’t often think about how the local economy is impacted by tourism. Yet for cities like San Antonio, tourism is one of the most important - if not the number one - economic generator.

In fact, a study authored by professors at Trinity University said the economic impact of the city’s hospitality industry is $13.6 billion. Moreover, the economic impact increased nearly 50 percent since 2005! Also, of the city’s 2.1 million residents, more than 130,000 work in the hospitality/services industry.

Native Americans lived in Texas prior to the arrival of the first Europeans. But Texas was first explored by the Spanish in 1691 under then King Carlos II (Charles II) and again in 1709 under King Philip V. San Antonio was founded May 1, 1718.The Spanish founded five missions, built a presidio (fort), and introduced Catholicism, farming techniques, and other skills through a host of Franciscan friars.

In 1731, in response to Spain’s King Philip V, 15 families arrived from Las Islas Canarias (Canary Islands) Spain and founded the Villa de San Fernando de Bexar (pronounced Bejar) and San Antonio de Valero mission was moved from the Rio Grande to the San Antonio river area. Spain ruled Mexico for 300 years until its independence in 1821, putting Texas under the Mexican flag until the Texas revolt.

Visit San Antonio Takes Charge

Cognizant of San Antonio’s factually-rich history, VSA’s website states:“Built Before Texas Was Texas. Or the United States was United.” In addition to forming VSA, the city is gearing up to celebrate San Antonio’s Tricentennial in 2018. 

Aside from being the only city in Texas to earn a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, another reason for beefing up rebranding of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau is a host of recent accolades bestowed on the city by the national travel media.

For example, USA Today called San Antonio one of the “top destinations in the world,” while Travel & Leisure ranked it No. 8 on its list of “World Destinations Worth Visiting in 2016.” Lonely Planet ranked the city at No. 8 on its list of recommendations in 2016.

LP said San Antonio is an unexpected and exciting place to see in the United States. Newcomers to San Antonio - like hordes of visitorswho descend on the city annually - agree that San Antonio, Texas is a city like no other city in the nation, and possibly the world.

Despite the change, under the previous public relations entity, the city invested $325 million in needed renovations to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Why? Conventions and conferences attract thousands of visitors, which in turn result in billions of dollars in business. 

In the past few years, the city has expanded the famous River Walk from a busy 3-mile promenade to a 15-mile trail in an effort to connect four of the historic Spanish missions south of downtown. Still, the first mission visitors see is Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo.

Aside from the River Walk, with its string of hotels, bars, and restaurants, including Jimmy Buffet’s recently opened Margaritaville, local entertainment venues (zoo and botanical gardens) have improved and/or expanded with growth and tourism in mind. 

While the new Visit San Antonio nonprofit will receive less than $20 million from the city’s hotel occupancy tax, it is still subject to the city council’s approval. Still, VSA will now be free to apply for grants. Grant money will help in promotion efforts and the goal of being more customer-centric.

Casandra Matej, a former member of the mayor’s task force and now executive director of VSA, said it’s a new era in San Antonio’s tourism evolution and, “in effect, like starting a new company, so we’re also seeking top talent,” she told the crowd.

The VSA inaugural meeting also included an awards ceremony in which city visionary and magnate, Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury was recognized. The former PACE picante sauce owner was honored for development of The Pearl entertainment complex and for helping to establish a San Antonio campus of the famous New York-based Culinary Institute of America.

Visit San Antonio Takes Charge

“His contributions have had a direct impact on our quality of life,” said Johnny Hernandez, a native San Antonian who graduated from the CIA’s New York campus and returned home to build a string of successful Mexican food restaurants.

Quality of life was behind the construction of the interactive, state-of-the-art Children’s Museum, situated in the new and improved Broadway corridor. But “the loudest voice wins,” Matej told a TV reporter.And thanks to VSA, the city will be a winner. 

Visit San Antonio Takes Charge

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Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators, and is a former newspaper reporter whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. Some of those publications include People magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio Express-News. Some of her features were redistributed by The Associated Press early in her career as an award-winning Texas journalist.

All photos courtesy and copyright Visit San Antonio, except boots photo: Kimble Young, Wikimedia Commons