San Antonio Deserves a World-Class River Barge Operation

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San Antonio community members and elected officials ride on the concept river barge approaching the Arneson River Theater. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio community members and elected officials ride on the new river barge as it approaches the Arneson River Theater.

Editor’s note: Entertainment Cruises is competing with several local firms for the 10-year, multimillion dollar contract with the City of San Antonio to operate the new San Antonio River Walk barges. Local attorney and lobbyist Frank Burney is working with competing team, Go Rio San Antonio. Read his response to the selection process and to Rivard Report Director Robert Rivard’s recent column here.

Go Rio was ranked highest by a scoring matrix that included a local preference, but City staff will recommend on Thursday that City Council select Entertainment Cruises based on both experience and quality of proposal. Click here to read our coverage. The following commentary was submitted by Paul Sanett, vice president of Engagement & Innovation at Entertainment Cruises.

The Rivard Report welcomes commentaries and other submissions presenting diverse viewpoints on issues of community interest.

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I love this city because there’s a vibrancy and energy here that’s contagious. That’s why I, and our company, Entertainment Cruises, want to be a part of it. We want to give San Antonio a world-class river barge operation.

So, what are we proposing?

Simply put: a local team, of local people, running a local business, focused on delivering four world-class, locally relevant experiences: public, water transportation, private charter and restaurant experiences.

Public Experiences

These really are the core of our proposal and we plan to offer a variety of them. Our public experience will include barge tours along the San Antonio River and specialty cruises featuring various themes designed to attract both visitors and residents.

We want to ensure that residents from across the city re-engage with their river as much as the visitors who are discovering it for the first time.

The “Welcome To San Antonio Experience” will be our re-imagining of the current basic river tour – a multi-sensory, multi-lingual, multi-directional interactive experience that will provide guests with an introduction to San Antonio’s rich cultural history like never before.

We really view the public experience, and plan to market it, as the best place to start your San Antonio visit. The experience will be hosted by trained, engaging Experience Ambassadors who will be able to talk with authority about attractions and entertainment options across the city.

We plan to work with local restaurants and shops, to enable guests to sample traditional, local delicacies as they ride. Visit San Antonio will highlight key local attractions and create a variety of suggested itineraries for guests that help them explore every corner of the city (north, south, east and west).

Reflecting the diversity of our guests, we will offer live-narration in Spanish, with multi-language narration devices always available for non-English/Spanish speakers.

We also plan to offer an annual calendar of “Themed Experiences” that tie in to citywide events such as the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo to drive cross-exposure and cross-sell.

And we’ll have daily specials, such as:

  • Kids Discovery Experience – Free rides will be offered to all Title 1 School Children and will be developed in partnership with local schools. We’ll have specialized educational curriculums for the kids and partnerships with local kid-friendly attractions.
  • Gastronomic Experience – A partnership with local restaurants and hotels.
  • Your City Like You’ve Never Experienced It Experience – We will incorporate activities such as morning yoga, TED talks, networking events, cocktail parties and more. 

Water Transportation Experiences

We think that with the right approach, water taxis can become a viable transportation option for the people of San Antonio. Today, we know it’s not working, but we can change that.

We envision a high-frequency service offered at peak commuting times (early morning/ early evening) – providing relief to the city’s overburdened roads. In fact, we’ve already had conversations with the team at the Pearl about having water taxis at their dock, ready to go in the morning with pastries and coffee from Bakery Lorraine.

Speaking of the Pearl – Entertainment Cruises believes the whole Museum Reach stretch of the River Walk has been underserved and we aim to rectify that.

We’ve met with a diverse range of groups with close proximity to the river, from the VFW to the San Antonio Museum of Art. All are excited to work with us in leveraging water taxis to help grow their number of visitors. Imagine getting picked up downtown and being taken to SAMA in a special barge with live pre-visit information on the exhibit you’re about to see from one of the curators. Or parking at SAMA, having a cocktail on their grounds before taking a taxi to and from your show at the Tobin?

Private Experiences (Charters)

We think charters are a significant opportunity with a lot of untapped potential – what’s more San Antonio there than a ride on a river barge? So, we’re going to offer several enhancements to enable restaurants and their guests the opportunity to take full advantage of the river barge experience.

For example, our team will include a number of dedicated sales and event coordinators that will provide an end-to-end service to charter guests, starting with all elements of pre-cruise planning, through the cruise itself, and post event follow up.

Local restaurants – big and small, on or off the River Walk – will benefit from our inclusive plan to give them access to private charters. Restaurants will have the option of using their own employees on the private barges, or they can utilize our “service provided” option where our team takes care of everything, and the restaurant provides the food.

Restaurant Dining Experiences

We’re most excited about this brand new, experience category: The Restaurant Dining Experience. Created and operated by our partner Chef Johnny Hernandez, this will be a full restaurant on the river, open to the public, every day, lunch and dinner. Check out his piece in the Rivard Report here for more information on this from Chef Johnny himself.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about what we’re proposing, who we are or why we, two independent citizen selection committees and the City staff believe Entertainment Cruises is the best choice to be the operator of the River Barges, feel free to shoot me an email at psanett@entertainmentcruises.com.

Let me end by saying this: San Antonio is an incredible city; vibrant and dynamic, with a storied past and an exciting future.

San Antonio deserves the best, and Entertainment Cruises is uniquely positioned to offer that – a world-class experience that every San Antonian will be proud of and every visitor wants to come back to do again.

We would be honored to be a part of your future.

One thought on “San Antonio Deserves a World-Class River Barge Operation

  1. Whoever ends up running the barges. I have one request that I think will improve ridership and our local connection to downtown.

    Give us the option to buy a season pass that allows us to bring some guests.

    So many of us here in San Antonio find ourselves in the role of tour guide when we have guests visiting from out of town. If we could buy a season pass that would let the card holder bring a group of 5 or 6 on the barges, we would ride them more.

    Even without guests, a barge pass would give us the opportunity to park near The Pearl and use the barges to get in and out of down town. We would increase our use of all businesses around the river if we had an affordable way to travel on it.

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