San Antonio celebrated its 300th birthday in 2018. Throughout its many years, the city has been a colony of Spain, a territory of Mexico, part of the Republic of Texas and even served as a home for German settlers. Now, with its rich history and standing as one of Texas’ major metro areas, San Antonio is a growing hub for meetings and conventions.
“In 2018, there was a dedicated push for the city not just to look back and celebrate 300 years, but to also look forward,” explained David Gonzalez, director of communications at Visit San Antonio. “And a lot of hotels have been doing that and renovating. Before COVID-19, we were seeing a steady increase in visitors to the destination.”
In fact, Gonzalez said that in 2019, Visit San Antonio reported that the city saw 40 million annual visitors, an increase on years prior.
When the pandemic subsides, San Antonio hopes to capitalize on this increased interest. With myriad projects underway to renovate existing hotels, open new spaces and expand the outdoor event capabilities, the River City will be well positioned as a can’t-miss Texas meetings destination.
Following is a roundup of the most notable projects in motion.
San Antonio Botanical Garden
The 38-acre urban oasis, San Antonio Botanical Garden, capped off a $20 million, multi-year expansion this spring with the opening of the onsite Education and Event Center. The 3,500-square-foot indoor venue can host up to 300 guests for lectures and symposiums and 200 seated for banquets and receptions. Adjacent to the center is the new Grand Lawn—an expansive outdoor space that can host 720 for seated events and up to 2,300 for festivals.
Photo: Lucile Halsell Conservatory, San Antonio Botanical; Credit: SABOT Marketing
Gonzalez also noted that the garden’s massive expansion has opened the door for interactive outdoor teambuilding activities.
“The botanical garden has an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor cooking garden that can be used for events,” he said. “There, groups can participate in cooking or cocktail demonstrations.”
[Related: 6 South Texas Destinations for Drive-To Meetings]
Major Hotel Renovations
When meetings and conventions return to San Antonio, planners will find a portfolio of refreshed hotel spaces in and around San Antonio. Some notable updates to look forward to include:
- San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter stands as one of the largest hotels downtown, steps away from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
Photo: San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter Hotel exterior; Credit: Courtesy of Visit San Antonio
In February 2020, it completed a multimillion-dollar refresh of its 1,001 rooms and suites, along with meeting space, common areas, lobby, restaurant and lounge space. A new M Club for Marriott’s elite members has also been added.
Photo: San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter Hotel M Club balcony; Credit: Courtesy of Visit San Antonio
- The Otis Hotel San Antonio, Autograph Collection will emerge after a renovation to the Marriott Plaza San Antonio in 2021. The comprehensive renovation will tackle all 290 guest rooms and add a new spa and restaurant. In addition to the already existing 10,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, new outdoor areas will be added for events.
- El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel is getting a $40 million face lift. The historic hotel, which originally opened in 1962, will reopen in 2021 as an independent boutique-style hotel affiliated with the Tapestry Collection by Hilton with new amenities including a restaurant, spa and bar.
- Omni La Mansion del Rio unveiled a multimillion-dollar renovation this spring to all of its 338 guest rooms. The property is a few blocks from the convention center.
[Check out our Texas Digital Edition]
New Hotel Openings
While San Antonio upgrades its current selection of hotels, it’s also adding new properties in response to its growing visitors. Post-pandemic, Gonzalez predicts that the destination will see that number of visitors hold steady—and as people gauge their comfort levels with flying again, he noted that the Texas drive-in market will be key in bringing business back to San Antonio.
“We are fairly lucky that San Antonio has always been very strong in the Texas market, so that is something we will double-down on,” he said. “We are only three hours from Houston, four or five hours from Dallas, one hour from Austin…these major metros that are connected to us are an easy in and out.”
Whether coming from near or far, new properties added to San Antonio’s overnight stay selection include:
- Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk is now accepting reservations for March 2021, bringing a unique, historic property to the River Walk. The hotel integrates the Civil War-era Alamo fish market building into its design. The 20-story hotel features 195 guest rooms, 1,102 square feet of meeting space and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace that overlooks the River Walk.
- Thompson San Antonio Hotel is part of a $116 million mixed-used development complex on the San Antonio River Walk, situated across the street from the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The hotel will house 162 guest rooms, a 20th-floor rooftop bar, a high-end restaurant, 5,000-square-foot pool deck, spa and more. It is scheduled to open early 2021.
Upgrades at the Convention Center
COVID-19 has accelerated the implementation of cutting-edge technology and enhanced sanitation at meetings and events. Whether it’s to help keep rooms clean, assist with health checks, or keep virtual meetings on track, meeting venues are getting upgrades.
That includes the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio.
Photo: Exterior Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center; Credit: visitsanantonio.com
“The convention center received a fantastic transformation in 2015 that allowed us to welcome different types of groups,” Gonzalez said. “Now, it has been very proactive in maintaining and upgrading their systems [for COVID-19].”
The most notable features of these upgrades are:
- The installation of thermal scanning camera systems for temperature checks
- A new UV light robot that sanitizes surfaces and spaces throughout the convention center
- Installation of UV lighting on all escalator handrails
- Installation of touchless items throughout the convention center like automatic entry doors, auto flush valves, enhanced touchless faucets, forearm door pulls and light/power sensors
- Increased fresh air exchange and air flow within the building and incorporated higher performing air filters
In September, the convention center also received the GBAC STAR accreditation. For a comprehensive overview of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center upgrades, plus the latest information about capacity limits and room layouts, you can read the full reopening plan.
Read Next: Outdoor Venues in Austin and the Hill Country for Fresh-Air Events
Visit San Antonio