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San Antonio mayor says it could take years for conventions to return to pre-pandemic levels

Mayor Ron Nirenberg also says air travel has been picking back up faster in San Antonio than many other large cities.
Credit: WFAA
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg

DALLAS — While tourists are returning to San Antonio, conventions are not. 

Seen as the economic lifeline for many cities, hundreds of conventions have been canceled in San Antonio since the start of the pandemic. And on Inside Texas Politics, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in the best case scenario, it will take two to three years for conventions to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

Worst case? Five years.

“I think that’s a lot to do with confidence and uncertainty. If we could book those conventions that were canceled, they probably would have gone off very well,” said Mayor Nirenberg. “But there’s still a little bit of uncertainty in the travel industry and certainly within those associations to invest serious sums of money to get people to move around.”

The mayor says some larger conferences and events have returned and experienced no major problems. That includes the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, when all 64 teams stayed and played in San Antonio back in March.

“San Antonio has shown that we can conduct big events even when there are health mitigation efforts underway,” he said.

Mayor Nirenberg also says air travel has been picking back up faster in San Antonio than many other large cities. And San Antonio International Airport will soon see a $2.5 billion overhaul as part of a 20-year strategic plan recently approved by the city council.

And the mayor says the city’s sales tax figures have not only been robust recently but have beaten forecasts.

“We think that some of those forecasts, the more pessimistic scenarios in terms of impact to our revenues and impact to the industry and business are just that, they’re a bit pessimistic,” the mayor said. “We expect business and life to return a little bit faster than what we were predicting in 2020 and even into 2021.”

It has been a busy year for Mayor Nirenberg. He had to manage the power grid catastrophe in February. He won re-election. 

And, of course, he’s had to deal with the battle against COVID and its subsequent impact on the community. The delta surge, he says, was the biggest challenge they faced this year.

“The impact that it had in prolonging the economic hardship was significant and continues to reverberate. So, the Delta surge definitely was the unfortunate lowlight of 2021 for us.”

Ron Nirenberg: Mayor Ron Nirenberg (sanantonio.gov)