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San Antonio Loses $21 Million In Conference Cancellations Due To COVID-19

The travel industry is still struggling to recover from a brutalizing pandemic, and San Antonio is going to lose an additional $21 million in conference business.

In Texas, an estimated $80 billion comes from direct travel spending and double that in economic impact.

Air travel is still loading planes with one-third fewer people than in 2019. Hotels expect to lose more money this year than last, according to a trade industry survey. And business travel seems to be one of the slowest segments to recover and in the case of Texas is still at times going backwards.

San Antonio just lost five conferences/meetings that would have equated to 17,500 visitors. That translated to more than 45,600 hotel nights. Visit San Antonio estimates it will cost us about $21.3 million in economic impact.

And the meetings weren’t lost out of protest over the state’s new ultra-restrictive abortion law, nor over it’s new voting law that will make it harder to vote for many. These conferences were canceled over the staggeringly high rates of COVID-19 infection and hospitalizations.

“While the rise of the delta variant in recent weeks has heightened concern from some conferences about gathering en masse during this time, Visit San Antonio continues to promote science and that it is safe to have events of all sizes in our city,” said Marc Anderson, President and CEO of Visit San Antonio.

Despite metrics Anderson points to regarding the safety of in-person conferences, some are still very concerned and with good reason. For a month, the state had 13,000+ residents battling COVID in the hospital. It leads the country in child deaths from the disease. Texas — a state of 29 million — has little more than 300 intensive care beds left.

While the news of canceled conferences is unwelcome, hoteliers linked to business travel were already expecting a down year.

Texas hotels are slated to lose 60% of what they made in 2019 in hotel revenue, or about $4 billion, according to a survey out Wednesday from the American Hotel and Lodging Association. That’s important in a state of more than 5,000 hotels and 1.2 million jobs connected to them.

San Antonio’s numbers aren’t as grim according to Visit San Antonio which shows the city’s hotels were just 3.5% behind July 2019 in bookings and the cost per booking exceeds the month that pre-pandemic year. All in all the trade association projects the city’s hotels made 10% more in July, prior to the largest surge in COVID cases in August.

“It’s been a very strong Summer for San Antonio,” said Henry Feldman, owner of the La Quinta Conference Center in the Medical Center. “The pent up demand for leisure travel during May, June, July and August, has been very strong.”

A survey out from the American Hotel and Lodging Association shows hotels are struggling.
A survey out from the American Hotel and Lodging Association shows hotels are struggling.

Safety or the perception of it impacts leisure travel and avoiding risk impacts business travel. Texas gives people neither of those things currently. But Feldman doesn’t think that the state is being singled out as somewhere to avoid by travelers.

“The delta variant is a problem nationwide, not just in Texas, so I think it is affecting business and convention travel throughout the country,” he said.

Travelers often don’t get into the nitty gritty of the COVID data to determine their destination.

But it’s clear the spread of the disease is costing cities money, and the state has done all it can to stop local governments and businesses from preventing the dsease’s spread.

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Local leaders are under threat from the state to not force people to wear masks. Businesses are under threat of losing state licenses if they ask for proof of vaccination. Several bars and restaurants have been warned about losing liquor licenses if they try.

“TABC has communicated with about two dozen businesses statewide in reference to SB968. There have been no violations recorded, and the agency has not taken formal action against a business,” said an agency spokesman.

Performers are pulling out of coming to states like Texas that don’t let businesses ensure people are vaccinated. The Austin City Limits Festival is currently battling state regulators over its plan to ask for proof of vaccination. If it loses the fight, it endangers the viability of the show that boasts more than 70,000 attendees and an estimated $264 million impact to the city’s economy.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org