A top tourism marketing official in Chicago has been selected to lead Visit San Antonio, spearheading the group’s efforts to help the city’s visitors industry regain its footing in the pandemic-induced slump.
Marc Anderson, chief operating officer of Choose Chicago, will be become Visit San Antonio’s new president and CEO on June 1.
San Antonio’s public-private tourism marketing organization has been without a permanent top executive since January when Casandra Matej left to take the same position at Visit Orlando.
“I am thrilled to join the Visit San Antonio team and this vibrant community that is poised for not only an incredible recovery, but extensive growth in the coming years,” Anderson said in a statement. “As the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio is experiencing a renaissance unlike many cities in our country.”
Visit San Antonio board chairman Jeff Arndt said Anderson was selected from 10 finalists.
Anderson’ spent the last five years in senior executive positions at Choose Chicago. Prior to that, he served for almost eight years as a regional director of marketing for The Peninsula Hotels.
Anderson became Choose Chicago’s COO in February 2019.
“I would say he recognizes that the recovery of the San Antonio tourism industry is the top priority right now,” said Arndt, CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit.
Over the last six weeks, San Antonio hotels have started to fill rooms again on weekends. But the convention business remains in tatters, and many hotels are two-thirds empty during the week.
Chicago, like San Antonio, has seen its convention business upended from the pandemic. But a crucial difference is that local and state rules have prevented gatherings of more than 50 people at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America.
While conventions have been few and far between at San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, there are no state capacity rules and city rules allow meetings of more than 1,000 persons.
The rules imposed on McCormick Place did not sit well with Anderson, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.
On April 16, it cited an email that Anderson wrote to his Choose Chicago colleagues, announcing his departure. He encouraged them to advocate to reopen Chicago for meetings and conventions during a “pivotal moment in our history.”
He said Chicago was at “grave risk” of losing group meetings scheduled not only for 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, but “possibly forever.”
Michelle Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Choose Chicago, said Anderson was not available for an interview Monday.
Visit San Antonio board member Henry Feldman, who was on the search committee for the top executive, called Anderson “a visionary” who has ideas to help bring back San Antonio’s tourism industry.
“I think he’s going to be the guy to make San Antonio see one of the fastest tourism turnarounds in the country,” said Feldman, who owns La Quinta Inn & Suites By Wyndham at the South Texas Medical Center.
Visit San Antonio, which receives the majority of its operating funds from the city’s hotel tax, is operating on a $21.3 million budget for the current fiscal year, which started in October 2020. That’s down from $38 million the prior year.
The tourism marketing organization has 54 employees, down from 85 before the pandemic.
But the organization Anderson is leaving, Choose Chicago, is operating under even more difficult conditions.
It’s slashed its tourism promotion budget to $16 million from $30 million and, staffing for Choose Chicago is around 40, half of what it was before the pandemic. All of its employees are furloughed one day a week.
On March 31, Choose Chicago said it was not renewing the five-year contract of CEO David Whitaker.