Any good industry representative knows that tourism is no longer just about hotels and theme parks. The modern traveler and the convention attendee want more than nice hotels and fancy restaurants – they want an authentic experience. Something to write – or text – home about.
Fortunately, San Antonio has plenty of the latter.
"They're looking for the authentic America," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association said of the modern tourist at the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau’s 2013 annual meeting, “Passport to San Antonio” Tuesday afternoon.
"I've watched this city come alive," he said, pointing to the soon-opening Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and the soon-to-be-revived Aztec Theatre, Hemisfair Park redevelopment, a thriving downtown, the Mission Reach and the recent unveiling of the Briscoe Western Art Museum, where the free meeting was held.
These projects and developments are usually assets that would be used to sell San Antonio to locals, but tourism officials across the nation have begun to align the interests of the local with the interests of a visitor because it turns out – they really do want a lot of same things; arts, eats, transport, culture, safety, fun, etc.
"This bodes very well for areas like San Antonio," Dow said. "(Visitors) want to go deeper ... and (San Antonio) has a great story to tell."
San Antonio tourism officials have also aligned their efforts with the national campaign, Brand USA, and support shortening visa wait times (in some cases from 130 days to 5 days) and the creation of a global entry card to make international travel for business and leisure easier.
Marketing San Antonio, as usual, is key to a successful tourism industry and will continue to be in 2014 – especially in Mexico.
“A key initiative is to include an increased international marketing (strategy),” said Cassandra Matej, CVB executive director of plans for 2014. “We’re doubling (our investment) in the Mexican market.”
In addition to radio and billboard campaigns, CVB has hired TravelPIE, a public relations and marketing firm, to serve as "ambassador" to Mexico City and Gudalajara.
“International travelers continue to be very important to San Antonio,” she said. “They stay in San Antonio longer and they spend more money.”
International and domestic tourism accounts for one out of every eight jobs in San Antonio, which reflects national numbers, Dow said. The local tourism industry's economic impact in 2011 is estimated at approximately $12 billion and that number is expected to rise in coming years.
“We did the math (and) it's very simple," Dow said. "Every 33 visitors who come to the United States mean one job."
Locally, the CVB recently launched it's domestic campaign, "Unforgettable SA," which ties in traditional tourist attractions with the growing cultural choices San Antonio has to offer. The video below is a time lapse of all the San Antonian characters featured in these productions.
In 2014, the CVB will be also be focusing on the new Certified Tourism Ambassador program, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center's expansion at Hemisfair Park (which will remain fully functioning – and busy – during construction) and working to designate the San Antonio Missions a World Heritage Site.
A draft nomination application is completed and will be officially submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Center in January 2014. The International Council on Monuments and Sites will be paying the Missions a visit that summer, the final decision coming in 2015.
“This (would be ) a game changer for San Antonio,” said Davis Phillips, chairman of the Convention and Visitors Commission, which leads a task force in support of the nomination. Inscription on the list, if successful, would be the first of its kind in Texas. Out of 981 sites around the world (including the Egyptian Pyramids, the Grand Canyon, and Great Wall of China), only 21 are in the United States.
"We would see an increase of visitors from all over the world as a result," Phillips said. "$100 million in local economic impact and more than 1,000 jobs."
A designation would not only highlight the historical and cultural importance of the Missions – it also would bring newfound attention to San Antonio as a destination city in the global marketplace.
"The Missions can become an international gateway to all that San Antonio and the region has to offer," said Susan Snow, San Antonio Missions National Historic Park archeologist and World Heritage designation project manager.
"It really has been a community effort," added Witte Museum President Marise McDermott, who serves on the CVC board. "Bexar County, SARA (San Antonio River Authority), the City, the Archdiocese, National Park Service and more."
The United States as a whole is in its adolescence as far as marketing itself to the global market as a destination.
When Dow accepted his position in 2006, the federal government spent little on marketing or branding America as a travel destination, he said. Since the implementation of the 2009 Travel Promotion Act and the subsequent creation of the public-private Corporation for Travel Promotion, $200 million dollars now goes towards USA branding efforts.
Much of this funding has been focused on promoting the benefits of travel as an educational and healthy part of human life.
“People are actually contributing back to an area they went to," he said of the recent "voluntourism" trend mixing volunteer work with leisure travel. "People are looking for unique learning, cultural experiences ... we can no longer just say, 'Hey you can look at our pretty buildings.' ... People want more than that now."