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In normal years, San Antonio’s travel industry is fueled by business meetings for the first few months, with tourism and leisure travel peaking in the summer. This year, those trends were thrown out the window.
As vaccination rates continue to rise, leisure travel has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels – and in some cases exceeded them, according to several San Antonio businesses interviewed for this article. But business meetings and business travel are back at a much slower pace and are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.
Source Strategies Inc., a San Antonio-based hospitality consulting group, reported Wednesday that hotel tax revenues in the San Antonio metro area increased in the first quarter of 2021, nearing their levels in the first quarter of 2020. Governor Greg Abbott ordered the first shutdown in March of the same year.
In metro San Antonio, hotel revenue for the first quarter was nearly $ 211 million, down 25% from nearly $ 277 million in 2020 and 40% lower than approximately $ 356 million in 2019.
But most of the income comes from hotels and other accommodation outside of the city’s downtown core, where business conventions typically attract travelers who want to stay nearby. In the first quarter, downtown bookings were 22%, compared to normally 30%, said Paul Vaughn, senior vice president of Source Strategies Inc.
Another indicator of the travel industry’s unbalanced recovery, budget hotels and extended-stay hotels have almost regained their revenue levels from 2019. But upscale downtown hotels – the kind that are on the rise. normally addressed to business travelers paying with the corporate card – were much more dramatically affected, according to the report.
“Hotels fill up on the weekends, but it’s the week we miss out,” Vaughn said.
He said it would be a while before this kind of travel would return. Conventions are often scheduled – and canceled – up to a year in advance.
Vaughn previously said 2020 had the “worst hotel performance” since the company started tracking hotel numbers in the late 1980s.
The report also found that the pandemic may have accelerated a trend among travelers to use Airbnb compared to traditional hotels and motels. The hotel company’s revenue rose 13.7% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, reaching nearly $ 11 million for the quarter.
Beyond the first three months described in the report, many tourism businesses are talking about an almost complete recovery from the beating they suffered in 2020.
Davis Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment Inc., which owns and operates Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and other attractions at Alamo Plaza, said it was the biggest turnout and best earner it has ever had. they’ve seen over a Memorial Day weekend since her family first settled. opened in 1987. The weekend was no accident either. Phillips said October set income records just like January, March, April and May.
“I expect this to continue, as we see this pent-up demand, and people may not be taking this grand cruise to Europe,” Phillips said, describing his businesses as a regional destination. “We seem to be having the best year we’ve ever had. “
At the San Antonio Zoo, vice president of marketing and sales Hope Roth said the zoo did better on sunny days than before the pandemic.
While pandemic-related metrics such as new infections previously predicted zoo traffic – usually for the worse – they don’t seem to have much of an impact anymore.
“Now we’re just looking at the weather,” said Roth.
City Sightseeing San Antonio, which runs double-decker bus tours of downtown San Antonio, also reported attendance levels close to 2019.
“I hesitate to say that we are back to normal, considering the curveballs thrown in the last 14 to 15 months, but we are close,” said Tom Duff, head of customer relations for the bus company. .
Visitors are also spending more than in the past, according to many tourism companies.
Terri Adams, general manager of Natural Bridge Caverns in New Braunfels, said the gift shop sold more handbags, jewelry, t-shirts and other merchandise than before the pandemic.
Like other tourist attractions, attendance is approaching 2019 levels there, and Adams said she feels “very optimistic” for the summer.
Business meetings and related travel have not followed the same path.
Visit San Antonio has booked 37 large-scale gatherings at the convention center for the remainder of the year, each set to reserve a thousand rooms or more on peak nights. 50 additional, smaller meetings have also been booked in recent weeks.
Although the organization reports that its booking rate has accelerated in recent weeks, it is still failing to replenish the 250 meetings normally booked in a pre-pandemic year.
Since the pandemic began in March last year, the city has lost 297 meetings across the city and internally to cancellations, with an estimated lost economic impact of $ 475 million. Visit San Antonio has not reported any cancellations in the past two months.