San Antonio tourism leaders say they have high hopes for the summer

Hospitality leaders are now trying to hire before the seasonal tourism spike

SAN ANTONIO – The visitor and tourism industry, hobbled by the pandemic, saw a welcomed increase in the hotel occupancy rate in March thanks to NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and spring break.

Richard Oliver, a spokesperson for Visit San Antonio, said 65% of the city’s hotel rooms were booked in March, compared to only 15% at the most in March 2020.

Although it’s not quite like the 80% occupancy rate San Antonio has seen during spring breaks in the past, Oliver said, “It really encourages us now as we look forward and are bullish about the summer period.”

Oliver said he expects June, July and August to be critical in judging what the tourism and hospitality industry will mean to the San Antonio economy beyond the initial surge of visitors in March.

Robert Thrailkill, general manager of the Hotel Palacio del Rio and the incoming chair of the Visit San Antonio board of directors, said 2019 had been the hotel’s best year yet, only to close its doors for two months in April and May after the pandemic began.

In total, the hotel had to result to furlough 350 employees. Only about 125 came back, Thrailkill said, but the Hilton now has about 225 hotel staff.

Although the Hilton has increased its pay rate, Thrailkill said hiring more staff members has been difficult given the tight job market throughout the hospitality industry.

He said the waves of visitors coming in the way that they did during the spring caught local leaders by surprise.

“It’s a very interesting time,” Thrailkill said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. If we get back to the visitation numbers that we’ve had before, we’ve got to have some folks working to be able to accommodate those folks.”

Still, Thrailkill said, he’s encouraged by the increase in visitors the city saw in March.

“I do expect a very busy summer,” Thrailkill said. “I do expect us to see lots and lots of families coming to San Antonio to enjoy all that we have to offer.”

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