Could rising inflation mean falling tourism in San Antonio?

With gas, flights, food, and hotel prices on the rise, how will one of SA’s chief industries be affected

SAN ANTONIO – With the dollar stretched thinner and thinner, could inflation stop tourists from visiting San Antonio?

The Department of Labor reported a 7.9 percent overall increase in consumer prices in February, compared to a year earlier -- the sharpest increase in 40 years -- but not everything rose at the same level.

In fact, some of the biggest areas related to travel rose by much more:

  • Food (away from home): +6.8%
  • Airline Fares: +12.7%
  • Gasoline (all types): +38%
  • Other lodging away from home, including hotels and motels: +29%

READ MORE: US inflation soared 7.9% in past year, a fresh 40-year high

With those kinds of increases at play, even before the spikes in gasoline prices this month, Trinity University economics professor David Macpherson thinks that could affect people’s desire to travel and San Antonio’s ability to pull in tourists -- one of the city’s biggest industries.

“Because then you got all the -- the lodging going up, right? You’ve got airfares going up. You got restaurant meals going up. They’re all going up,” Macpherson said.

But if it’s having an effect, it’s not a dramatic one yet, from what Hilton Palacio del Rio General Manager Robert Thrailkill can see.

The city is in the middle of the first week of spring break, and Thrailkill says reservations at his hotel are pouring in. He believes it’s too early to tell how inflation could affect the city’s tourism industry, but he’s optimistic.

“Based on past history, we do very, very well when the economy takes dives and goes the other way, shall we say. Traditionally, San Antonio is a great drive-in market. Within a 250-mile radius of San Antonio, people love to come here,” said Thrailkill, who is also the chairman of the Visit San Antonio board of directors.

In at least one instance, KSAT found on Thursday that inflation did seem to work in the city’s favor.

On the River Walk, Becky and John Elze were visiting from Dallas for spring break.

“We really planned to go to Savannah, Georgia, but with gas prices, we were like, ‘We’ll go somewhere really close to home,’” Becky Elze said.

As far as the rising price of a hotel stay goes, Thrailkill notes that it may be a big jump, but that’s compared to the dip that happened in the pandemic.

Though the Consumer Price Index shows the national average in February 2022 lodging levels already exceeded 2019 and 2020 levels, Thrailkill says his hotel’s rates were still below 2019 levels.

“2019 was our best year ever for our market, so we’re not quite yet there, but we’re getting closer and closer every month,” Thrailkill said.

Thrailkill and hotel consultant Paul Vaughn both think there could be another force at play, too -- pent-up demand for travel.

“I have no doubt that (inflation) will affect (tourism) some, but I think the pent-up demand will outweigh the inflation. They’re still going to want to get out. They want to take their kids to do stuff,” said Vaughn, senior vice-president at Source Strategies.

“I think they’re weighing the two, and they’re saying, ‘We can afford it this time.’ Right? ‘We can afford to go out now.’ May be different six months from now, but for now, we’re going to go out and have fun,” Thrailkill said.

Visiting the Alamo on a trip from Michigan, Mike Romanski said the inflation hadn’t hit them hard for the trip.

“You know, the airplane, the hotels - everything was already paid,” Romanski said. “But certainly, as the summer travel season, I’m sure we’ll have an impact everywhere.”

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

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