One out of every five visitors to the Alamo doesn’t actually enter the historic Spanish-colonial mission, according to a survey of 2,068 local, Texan, and national travelers.

The survey, commissioned as part of the Alamo redevelopment planning process and released Wednesday, also shows that most of those travelers (including 236 San Antonio residents surveyed) favor the redevelopment plan’s controversial design elements, such as creating a “more reverent” space around the Alamo, adding more shade and trees, building a state-of-the-art museum, reclaiming and delineating the footprint of the original Alamo mission and battlefield site, closing nearby streets, and moving the Alamo Cenotaph.

Click here to download the 78-page report and analysis by Missouri-based H2R Market Research, which used a consultant to conduct the online survey. Click here to download the questionnaire.  Of the respondents, 200 were locals, 1,600 were Texans, and 400 were people from so-called “feeder” cities: Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; San Jose, California; Los Angeles; San Diego; Denver; and Phoenix. Thirty-seven percent of the Texan respondents were Hispanic.

“For us, this is just a treasure trove of data that helps inform decision making,” said Douglass McDonald, CEO of the Alamo. “A fundamental piece [of the redesign] is about asking the customer what they want.”

The customers, in this case, are San Antonians, Texans, and travelers from across the nation and globe, especially now that the Alamo and four other missions are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“What they really want is more activities,” McDonald said, and “surprisingly … there’s really not much difference between what San Antonians want to have happen and what the people of Texas want to have happen.”

More than 2,000 people, most live in Texas, participated in the survey that included questions about the Alamo Master Plan proposal.
More than 2,000 people, most living in Texas, participated in the survey that included questions about the Alamo Master Plan proposal. Credit: Courtesy / H2R Market Research

The survey identified the Alamo’s strengths as offering self-guided tours, on-site museums and structures, and activities for all ages. But it also identified “unmet needs” such as more shade, new events and attractions, and a greater variety of things to do.

Overall, 50 percent of respondents were in favor of removing businesses like Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! museum and Tomb Raider 3D Adventure from across Alamo plaza. Hispanic respondents were even less likely to want them removed, according to the data.

“Removing those had the least support because families come here and families need more family-oriented expreiences” McDonald said. “The Alamo should be providing that.”

The Hispanics surveyed were less supportive of removing commercial activities like Ripley's Believe It Or Not! and more supportive of increasing reverence around the Alamo compared to their caucasian counterparts.
Hispanics surveyed were less supportive of removing commercial concerns like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! and more supportive of increasing reverence around the Alamo compared to other survey respondents. Credit: Courtesy / H2R Market Research

Generally, the survey shows that people want a more “reverent” experience for people of all ages, he said, without street preachers yelling and commercial vehicles going by – a concept planners were already envisioning. Nearly half of visitors said they went to the Alamo with children under the age of 18.

“Inappropriate behaviors for families should not be part of this space,” McDonald said. Planners have included an element of “managed access” to Alamo Plaza since the first master plan draft was released last year with the infamous glass walls that surrounded the barren, treeless plaza.

The most recent interpretive plan, released in June, replaces the walls with gates, fences, and railings; dozens more trees line the plaza and surrounding areas. The plaza, designers hope, will become a kind of outdoor extension of the museum – whether that museum is inside the historic buildings there or they are demolished to make way for new construction.

The survey results are in stark contrast to the recent public meetings held regarding the multimillion-dollar public-private plan to “reimagine” the Alamo and its surrounding areas. Descendants of those who fought in the 1836 battle and others are vehemently opposed to moving the Cenotaph, an empty tomb honoring the defenders of the Alamo. They have shown up in force – as have local urban planners and architects who oppose partially closing off the public square and surrounding streets and preservationists who want to save the three historic buildings designers suggested be demolished to make way for that state-of-the-art museum.

Alamo CEO Douglas McDonald attempts to talk down a crowd of citizens opposed to the revised Alamo master plan.
Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald addresses a crowd of citizens opposed to the revised Alamo master plan. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

“We respect the points of view that are expressed at public meetings,” McDonald said. “But public meetings are not a scientific method for understanding what people think.”

The H2R survey is not, however, a survey of the general public that is commonly released to the public, said longtime Austin-based pollster Michael Baselice, whom Alamo officials asked to review the study’s methodology.

Each respondent, according to an H2R researcher, had to confirm that they:

  • are familiar with San Antonio;
  • have visited at least one type of attraction in the past 12 months;
  • are at least 18 years of age;
  • take at least one leisure trip a year requiring an overnight stay or at least 50 miles from home;
  • are a household decision maker.

“In this regard, it is unique set of respondents and survey results that stands on its own,” Baselice wrote in his review.

That distinction is important, he told the Rivard Report, because this is a survey of a subset of adults, who happened to be mostly (64 percent) women.

The purpose of the study was not to gauge public opinion of the master plan, rather, “to provide decision makers with a benchmark that measures how attractions visitors across the region view The Alamo’s brand as a travel destination,” he said.

“If I do a survey of people who eat pizza … I might categorize them by who eats pizza once a month, twice a month, et cetera,” Baseslice said. “It’s a whole different survey when I [exclude] people that never eat pizza.”

Most people do go on at least one trip per year, he said, so a lot of the panelists surveyed and compensated by the global company Research Now were probably not disqualified.

In his review, he also noted that the survey was statistically valid.

Visual aides and renderings were not used in the survey, he said, but it’s possible that another one could be conducted that used renderings of the redevelopment plan’s elements.

The results of the survey, which was shared with plan designers last week, is “going to encourage people to make decisions based on data,” McDonald said. “The data should unify us. It does not divide us.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com