San Antonio City Council rejected demands that some of the money be used to provide more services for the homeless, and voted unanimously to approve a 1.25% tax on hotel room rentals in the city, to raise money to pay for badly needed promotion and marketing, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"San Antonio needs to advertise." travel industry consultant Todd Walker told City Council. "You have lost market share equating to roughly $200 million, compared to other cities across the state."
Visit San Antonio CEO Casandra Matej told the City Council that since the state slashed the budget for its tourism effort by half, other cities like Houston, Dallas, and Austin have instituted what are called Tourism Public Improvement Districts (TPID) to promote convention and leisure travel to those cities. Since then, San Antonio has noticeably fallen behind in the number of visitors it is receiving, especially from elsewhere in Texas.
Former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, who now is involved in the tourist barge company on the Riverwalk, says there is more at stake than just hotel companies.
"Many of our San Antonians depend on and are proud to work in our hospitality industry," she said. "For many of them, they've been in it for years. It is also the number one small business employer in the United States."
Many supporters of the TPID pointed out that, since tourists pay sales taxes, the drop in tourism is costing the city's general fund, as well as costing the City Hotel Motel Tax revenue. The Hotel Occupancy Tax, for example, paid for the upgrades at the Alamodome which enabled San Antonio to host a successful NCAA Men's Final Four earlier this year.
But several speakers said the money raised by the TPID should also be used to help deal with San Antonio's increasingly troubling homeless population. More than 3,000 people are now listed as homeless on any given night in the city.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who voted for the TPID, said homelessness is in fact a tourism issue. She recalled an experience she had three years ago when visiting Seattle with her family.
"The panhandling was so aggressive that by the time I got to the Walgreens, which was only about three blocks away, I was really scared," she recalled. "Of course, the result has been that I have never gone to Seattle again with my family, because I didn't feel that it was safe."
And the Texas Organizing Project, which gathered the petition signatures needed to place the city's controversial mandatory sick leave pay ordinance into effect, said if the hotel motel industry wants to help the community, it should use that money to raise the pay of its employees.
"San Antonio residents often get the message that downtown, and a lot of its attractions, are not for us. With all of its new investments, it is not for any of us."
But in the end, Council voted for the TPID, which will raise the cost of an average overnight visit to the city by roughly $4.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse says all this shifting of funds is one of the things which has left citizens suspicious of City Council.
"To think I can just go in and grab some of your cash and put it somewhere else, I think that is the fallacy that runs rampant on this council," he said.
Matej said plans are to begin raising funds for promotion by this coming spring, in hopes of boosting tourism in the summer of 2019.