SAN ANTONIO — National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations President Michael Dillinger says tourism is coming back, and San Antonio is in a great position in the latter stages of the pandemic. Now the issue is whether or not the industry and local businesses can serve tourists at the pre-pandemic level.
"What's happened in our industry... we've been decimated. We've lost a lot of guides, a lot of tour directors, and at the same time, tourists have come back with a vengeance this year," Dillinger said. "We expected people to come back, but didn't expect them to come back in these numbers so quickly. That's been a real challenge."
The NFTGA hosted a Biennial Conference to support San Antonio tourism and tour guides at the downtown Drury Plaza Hotel on Thursday. Dillinger works in more than 20 markets, and said areas in Texas, and on the East Coast, tourism is now nearing pre-pandemic levels.
Unfortunately, he said, staffing at local businesses have not returned the same way.
"Hotels don't have enough staff. Restaurants don't have enough staff. Bus lines don't have drivers. Airlines are struggling to meet demand," Dillinger said.
Mi Tierra General Manager Manny Moreno said their restaurants have seen an uptick in tourists in the last year, and the City of San Antonio has done a good job bringing more events downtown.
At the same time, Mi Tierra is still trying to hire additional staff so they can return to 24-hour service. Moreno said there are lots of positions still available.
"We are doing our best to keep staffing, and keep trying to get where we need to be," Moreno said. "We want to represent our city and the culture of our city."
The tourism industry is now working hard to increase staffing. Denise Richter, who works with the Professional Tour Guide Association of San Antonio, told KENS 5 that tourism is a significant economic driver in the city.
"Tourism is the No. 3 economic driver in San Antonio. It helps fund our streets. The tax dollars that come through helps hire our firefighters and police officers. It goes into our schools," Richter said.
Richter said tourism was previously producing up to $229 million in tax revenue a year. Full tourism data from 2022 isn't available yet, but Richter said she believes it has returned by more than 90%.
Visit San Antonio CEO and President Marc Anderson said hotel occupancy is now very close to what it was pre-pandemic. He also said 2023 could be a record year for the city.
He said more conventions are returning to the city. The U.S. Travel Association’s IPW event is scheduled for the city in May. Anderson said that trade show would highlight San Antonio on a global scale and could be a huge boost for the city.
"It's an enormous deal for our city. It will be the first time we are on a global stage with tour operators, travel agents, hoteliers with around the word and suppliers around the world," Anderson said. "It's never taken place in San Antonio."