The week before last we were glad to welcome a delegation of Japanese visitors to San Antonio to learn more about “Advancing Regional Tourism” through an exploration of San Antonio’s impressive historical sites, hospitality industry, and educational programs.
The visitors began by a warm reception at our Annual Dinner where they were welcomed as guests of honor. Ms. Aya Takeda introduced the delegation to the assembled guests and explained the purpose of their own IVLP group after some remarks from their fellow IVLP attendee, Ms. Juan Wang who participated in an individual project on “U.S. Government and Society.”
When their program began in earnest on that Thursday, the participants from Japan began by visiting the Hotel Valencia. Given the background of some of the visitors in hotel management, they were interested to learn more from Hotel Valencia about how they serve domestic and international clientele at their premier facilities.
The group took a quick break for coffee before traveling to the Frost Bank Tower to meet with the City of San Antonio. Specifically, the group was pleased to sit down to meet with Ms. Colleen Swain of the City’s World Heritage Office. The Office works to coordinate with many levels of government, members of the impacted communities, and non-profit partners to ensure that the Missions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are properly appreciated, integrated into the fabric of the nearby community, and create a responsibly managed economic impact. Visitors were keen to discuss the effect of this designation with Ms. Swain and explore the lengthy application process that the World Heritage Office coordinated.
After lunch, the group met with Dr. Sedef Doganer of UTSA’s Department of Architecture. Dr. Doganer’s expertise in envisioning and designing touristic spaces was very insightful. Her more academic approach helped the visitors imagine the broader impacts of situational factors to the success of tourist attractions and hospitality providers. Dr. Doganer was also able to contribute to a conversation begun at the previous appointment about leveraging a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for maximal, yet respectful, economic impact.
The day of programming concluded at St. Philip’s Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. This vocational training is built through the University of Houston and prepares a cohort of students with the necessary skills to work in San Antonio’s thriving hospitality field. Representatives of the Hilton College were able to explain the variety of classes and preparatory work they can provide to students.
The next day, our Japanese delegation was thoroughly impressed by a tour of the Missions. Led by the American Indians of Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT-SCM), the tour allowed visitors to not only appreciate the architecture of the Spanish Missions, but they were also able to learn more about the lives of the indigenous people and settlers who lived on these plots. Information, demonstrations, and performances by the AIT-SCM staff truly impressed the visitors while giving them a better understanding of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that they had heard so much about.
After lunch, they resumed programming at the San Antonio Riverwalk Association. Their meeting focused on preserving the historic beauty of the Riverwalk while developing the local shops into a true economic force. As the most-visited tourist attraction in the State of Texas, the Riverwalk Association certainly had plenty of valuable information to share with our visitors.
The day concluded at Visit San Antonio where they discussed public and private collaboration on promoting San Antonio to the world as a first-class destination. Their marketing strategies developed with funding from hotel occupancy taxes have helped boost the local economy by showing those around the world the options available in San Antonio, whether it is for conventions, leisure, or business.
Overall, these appointments suited the visitors and their goals by introducing them to the tourism and hospitality economies of our community whether from the perspective of a historic site, a city office, a local business, or commercial association. This multi-faceted approach created a holistic, informational program for our IVLP participants.