San Antonio looks at $21 million loss as fall conventions cancel

Texas city braces for $21 million loss as fall conventions pull out

Tourism in Texas may take a little bit longer to pick itself back up again. 

The conventions and events industry, and those that gain from attendance, are about to take a hit. 

The conventions and events industry, and those that gain from attendance, are about to take a hit. 

Kin Man Hui/Staff photographer

Tourism in San Antonio may take a little bit longer to pick itself back up again. 

The Alamo City faces a loss of $21.3 million in economic impact after five conventions  booked by Visit San Antonio for the fall canceled due to concerns over the COVID-19 delta variant, said Visit SA spokesperson Richard Oliver on Tuesday.

He says that amounts to17,500 attendees that would have taken up 45,633 hotel room nights. Oliver adds this number does not account for other hotels and resorts like JW Marriott and Hyatt Hill Country Resort also book meetings and conventions. 

Oliver says he can't reveal which events canceled due to Visit SA policies. 

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 20: A cosplayer dressed as the Merman from "The Shape of Water" walk the floor during Comic-Con 2018 in San Diego on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 20: A cosplayer dressed as the Merman from "The Shape of Water" walk the floor during Comic-Con 2018 in San Diego on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Digital First Media Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images/Digital First Media via Getty Images

However, one of the conferences that has already publicly announced its cancelation is the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference, which was scheduled to take place at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on September 30. 

The website cites "rising cases of COVID-19 infection across the United States" as the reason for its cancellation. It has now shifted to a virtual event scheduled for November.

Oliver says that among the conventions that canceled, none of them cited recent Texas laws like the abortion ban or the voting bill as their reasons. 

A statement from Marc Anderson, president and CEO of Visit SA, says organizations can still hold large in-person events safely. 

One of those events includes the Texas High School Coaches Association convention in July, which had a record attendance of more than 14,000. 

"Visit San Antonio continues to promote science and that it is safe to have events of all sizes in our city," Anderson says. "Our destination is constantly lauded by media and convention attendees as friendly, warm and accommodating, and that comfort level is built on an reassuring dedication to the welfare of all."

This news comes as a slight punch to the gut for the local events and conventions business, which is still reeling as it attempts to recover from mass cancelations amid the pandemic in 2020. 

MySA reached out to Patricia Muzquiz Cantor, director of convention and sports facilities department for more information on the impact to the city.

Anderson told the city council at a budget hearing in August tourism recovery probably won't reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024. From 2020 to 2021, San Antonio lost 292 meetings. Revenue from the tax on hotel rooms is down about 30 percent from before the pandemic. 

San Japan attendees were able to mask up and look 'kawaii' for this year's event.

San Japan attendees were able to mask up and look 'kawaii' for this year's event.

B. Kay Richter for MySA

Over Labor Day weekend, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center also hosted San Japan, a video game and anime convention. Organizer S. David Ramirez says 12,883 people attended San Japan this year. That number includes staff and vendors. 

Over 20,000 people attended San Japan in 2019, Ramirez says, but to work out a safe plan with the city and Visit SA, organizers capped ticket attendance at 10,000. San Japan sold out and turned people away at the door. 

Ramirez says the organization has a contract with San Antonio to use the Henry B. Gonzalez until September 2024. He didn't reveal the exact contract details, but says it cost north of half-a-million dollars to put on the event this year. That's cheaper than previous years, he adds.

Events could jump as numbers are beginning to trend downward over the past week, with the Metro Health District reporting a positivity rate of 7.1 percent on Tuesday — down over half from when it skyrocketed over 16 percent in mid-August

San Antonio has tried to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hasn't made it easy . The governor issued executive orders blocking municipalities and schools from placing mask mandates, asking for proof of vaccination requirements and or implementing vaccine mandates. 

On top of a mask policy and social distancing rules at San Japan, Ramirez also used a health pass service called CLEAR, which allows attendees to share proof of vaccination, negative COVID-19 tests or take a health survey. The choice to share vaccine confirmation was left entirely up to attendees. In the end, Ramirez says about 80 percent of attendees shared vaccine confirmation.

"Our audience — we tend to be more progressive and more educated,"  Ramirez says."So implementing the masking policy, implementing vaccine proof and health credentialing policy, and implementing social distancing was kind of just table stakes. That was the expectation."

Of course, it's not always that easy at the public level. Attempts to issue mandates in public places and schools have led to legal battles across Texas, including in Bexar County where attempted mask mandates were unsurprisingly shut down by the Texas Supreme Court. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is still suing school districts over mask mandates.

Even so, Visit SA expects to continue booking events. Anderson says the Alamo City has already hosted 16 events this year, with another eight on the books for 2022. 

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