Siri Sinard, a front desk agent at the Hilton Garden Inn at 2131 N. I-35, said from San Antonio to Austin, the Hilton hotels have been booked solid since Tuesday, and guests have had to look as far as Waco for accommodations because Hill Country rooms have become so scarce.
“On Tuesday, we were at 30% capacity, and in about three or four hours, we were up to 90% capacity,” Sinard said, adding that the Embassy Suites and Hampton Inn in San Marcos have also experienced massive upticks in hotel stays since Tuesday.
In New Braunfels, a representative at Courtyard by Marriott said that although there has been a near sellout of rooms since Tuesday, there were still a few rooms available on Wednesday morning.
The representative said safety around the COVID-19 pandemic remains a priority despite the uptick in demand, and staff are still enforcing mask use in the public areas of all Marriott establishments, among other safety protocols.
Rebecca Ybarra, director of destination services for the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau, said this type of rush on hotel rooms in the area has happened before—most recently with Hurricane Harvey in 2017—but the level of occupancy this week far surpassed that.
“People had to evacuate Harris County and other counties, and in the messaging, [officials] were recommending people evacuate and go to the San Antonio and Austin areas, and laying between the two communities, we did fill up quickly,” Ybarra said. “Most of the reservations were made Sunday and Monday online for many of the hotels.”
Ybarra said the San Marcos area has not seen this level of hotel occupancy since before COVID-19 restrictions were implemented, and even then, the numbers this week likely far surpass any numbers seen in recent memory.
While the increase in hotel stays has shown record numbers, Ybarra said the numbers are slightly skewed because many hotels in the San Marcos area do not have the staff to ensure proper next-day sanitizing of all rooms due to the COVID-19 restrictions and personnel reductions brought about by the pandemic.
However, the uptick should create a welcome increase in hotel occupancy tax revenue for communities in Central Texas.
In New Braunfels, data on the city’s hotel tax revenue shows sharp declines in May, June and July of 2020 as compared to the same months in 2018 and 2019. In May 2019, for example, hotel tax revenue in New Braunfels was up 3.2% from May 2018, but that revenue dropped 79.6% from May 2019 to May 2020.
The same is true in San Marcos, where in July 2020, hotel tax revenue plummeted by more than 62% over July 2019.
“I have not seen the parking lots as full since summer of last year, and I don’t remember the last time when all of our hotels have been 100% sold out—even last year during graduation, which is traditionally the time when we do sell out," Ybarra said.