SAN ANTONIO – The five San Antonio missions already are top tourist destinations in Texas, but now that the International Council on Monuments and Sites is recommending them as a World Heritage Site, approval could increase tourism to the area quite a bit.
That’s the expectations of the city and county leaders who greeted the recommendations with high fives and applause.
The final approval of new sites to the global list will be made during the upcoming session of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Bonn, Germany, held at the end of June through July 8.
Richard Oliver, communications director of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the estimated return for a designation like this could reach $2 million in hotel/motel tax, as well as the addition of 1,000 jobs, according to a study commissioned by Bexar County.
That's because World Heritage Sites are considered a sort of “tourism bucket list” that many travelers seek to fill across the planet.
Currently, Texas has none, but the United States, as a whole, has 23 sites. They include Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, but also many national parks such as Yellowstone.
Visitors to the missions, like Verleen Adel, from Arizona, said they are impressed with the cultural lessons there.
“They had so many things that they could do back in the 1700s that we don't. We're not even sure what they did, but it sure is beautiful," she said.
Learning about the possibility that they may soon be a World Heritage Site was exciting for her and others at Mission San Jose.
"I think it's a great idea," Bruce Edwards said. "It's a separate part of history that people aren't acquainted with. And that will expose more people to it."
Others were not so sure about the designation, worrying that National Historic Sites like Mission San Jose are doing just fine with a U.S. recognition rather than one from the United Nations.
"I think the United States should keep their own treasures," Bill Edel said. "Let the world keep theirs, and we'll take care of our people. We'll give up our authority to the U.N. so I'm against it."
The CVB is working to correct that popular misconception.
Oliver said just like the Statue of Liberty, if and when the missions were be approved, the United Nations would have no oversight, no decision making or involvement in operations.
“It's a list. It's a designation. There's no oversight. There's no one who comes in and tells you have to plant something here or have something over here," Oliver said. "It's absolutely a recognition that the city and the county have been working on for a long time."