New hotel fee wins council approval
San Antonio visitors will pay slightly more for their hotel stays under a new fee the tourism industry says will help them draw more newcomers to the River Walk, Convention Center, restaurants and other attractions.
With a 10-1 vote, City Council members approved a “tourism public improvement district,” or TPID, Thursday after pushback from Councilman Rey Saldaña, who argued that some of the funding should be set aside for homelessness initiatives.
The Texas Organizing Project also sent a letter Wednesday asking the council to postpone or withdraw the decision until an agreement involving homelessness solutions could be reached. Representatives from the grassroots community organization reiterated their request Thursday.
Nonunion tourism workers “face countless challenges, including stagnant wages, unaffordable housing, limited economic mobility and lack of adequate health care,” TOP Executive Director Michelle Tremillo wrote in the letter. “We believe in an equitable community where everyone has opportunity with strong safety nets built for working families when emergencies strike.”
Industry leaders have said they want to be part of a broader discussion about homelessness in San Antonio, but that it’s not the focus of the TPID or what hoteliers signed on to. Ahead of the vote, they successfully gathered signatures from more than 60 percent of the city’s hoteliers.
Some council members agreed that it is not the purpose of the TPID and noted Thursday that supporters have been working on the proposal for about two years.
Council members said there need to be more discussions on how to address homelessness in the community and an exploration of options. The tourism industry will be part of the conversation.
The TPID covers all of San Antonio. Hotel guests will be charged a fee, calculated at 1.25 percent of their room rate, at hotels and motels with more than 100 rooms. Visitors would pay the fee on top of the 16.75 percent occupancy tax they currently pay at hotels of that size.
Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, a public-private nonprofit that acts as the city’s sales and marketing arm, said the industry is “elated.”
“It’s a monumental day for the tourism industry,” she said. “Together, we can do some great things.”
She also said that Saldaña’s comments were powerful.
The TPID is expected to generate $10.4 million in its first year, which will be used for marketing and promoting the city. Industry leaders say the infusion will help them remain competitive with other destinations and put their budget on par with cities like Dallas and Houston, as San Antonio’s share of the market has slipped.