Entering a summer two years removed from the COVID-19 outbreak, data shows that parts of San Antonio’s convention and hospitality industries are rebounding from the pandemic’s economic effects, but other parts are lagging.

According to local hospitality data tracking firm Source Strategies, San Antonio hotels collectively brought in $1.2 billion in lodging the final three months of 2021, an improvement over 2020 but still 10% behind the last quarter of 2019.

Visit San Antonio, the organization that promotes San Antonio tourism and conventions, said the number of meetings and conventions in venues that works with VSA is slowly picking up.

VSA said more than 320 business and organizational meetings, projected to total 460,000 attendees, have been scheduled to take place in 2022 at city convention facilities and several local hotels mainly in downtown.

Javier Vasquez, assistant to the city’s convention sports facilities director, confirmed 210 events booked for the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center for fiscal year 2021-22, which started Oct. 1, 2021, and ends Sept. 30 this year.

Vasquez also said 133 events have been booked at the Alamodome during the same period of time. Comparatively, 94 events were held at the convention center and 150 events were held at the Alamodome during FY 2020-21.

Vasquez said 116 events are booked for the Alamodome, and 248 events are booked for the convention center in FY 2022-23.

While bookings for San Antonio’s main convention facilities look promising, the local convention industry is far from getting back to pre-pandemic numbers.

“Business is improving at both facilities. However, we do not anticipate the convention center returning to 2019 levels until [FY] 2024/2025,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said with pandemic precautions in place, the Alamodome successfully hosted the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four tournament in April 2021, including 108 practices and 35 nationally televised games.

Vasquez said the city has implemented several pandemic measures at public convention facilities to help ensure people’s safety. Those efforts have included retrofitted the convention center with automatic main lobby entry doors and touchless fixtures.

Additionally, enhancements have been to air filtration systems, disinfectants, sanitization and procedures for staff, Vasquez said.

The authors of a 2021 report examining COVID-19’s effect on San Antonio’s hospitality industry said despite lower room and event bookings in the last two years, the overall industry remained strong during the pandemic’s height compared with previous pre-COVID-19 years.

The study, authored by retired Trinity University professor Richard Butler and current Trinity professor Mary Steffi, showed the industry’s total economic effect of $17.4 billion in 2019 declined to $13.9 billion in 2020.-

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the industry in 2020 was still bigger than it was in 2010,” the study said, adding between 2010-19, the hospitality industry’s economic effect doubled in size since 2000.

Other nonpublic meeting and convention facilities have been seeing an uptick in bookings, a sign of gradual pandemic recovery, local observers said.

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s United State of the City address, delivered by Mayor Ron Nirenberg at Tech Port Center and Arena on April 26, was a sold-out event, chamber President and CEO Richard Perez said.

Perez said other recent chamber events have recorded positive attendance figures.

Perez added, in spite of inflation, supply chain and labor shortage issues, the local economy is on the upswing.

“These are clear examples of things getting back to normal,” Perez said.

Joy Bonebrake, events director at the San Antonio Shrine Auditorium, declined to provide rental figures, but she said the Stone Oak venue recorded more total rentals in 2021 than in any previous year.

Bonebrake also said as of early April, the Shrine Auditorium was nearly booked up for the remainder of 2022.

Bonebrake said she has thus far received positive feedback from the variety of businesses, organizations, nonprofits and private parties who have rented the Shrine Auditorium, where all rental proceeds benefit the local Alzafar Shriners.

“Some people tell us [the auditorium is] now run better and more consistent in how events are run,” Bonebrake said.

According to Bonebrake, the Shrine Auditorium differed from many privately run event venues around San Antonio in that when state officials lifted most COVID restrictions in early 2021, Shrine Auditorium management did not impose their own pandemic safety requirements—something that gave the venue a leg up over competing local event spaces.

“We left it up to each renter if they wanted to impose a requirement,” Bonebrake said.

Bonebrake also said many users of the Shrine Auditorium have chosen to hold their events mostly or completely outdoors, including the 1,100-space parking lot.

The auditorium itself contains 22,330 square feet of space spread over three large event rooms.

The Shrine Auditorium property also has a conference room, a dining room, a foyer for small gatherings and a pavilion that can fit up to 600 people.

“Sometimes, people are surprised to find out how much space we have,” Bonebrake said.

Despite the Shrine Auditorium’s fast recovery with rentals, venue management has seen labor shortages produced by the pandemic affect staffing of larger events, Bonebrake said.

Bonebrake added auditorium event staff has had to get into a routine of a higher frequency of functions.

“In some cases, [temporary staff] agencies were having a hard time keeping up with things,” she said.