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11 min

Live From IPW: The IPW Hand-Off to the Next Destination with Marc Anderson

Did you know that San Antonio is home to the only ultra-accessible theme park in the entire world? Marc Anderson, President & CEO of Visit San Antonio, shares insights on the effects of hosting IPW in 2023, as well as the city's DEI efforts and rapid growth. He also offers advice to next year's host city for IPW, Chicago.

"We're part of a very friendly tourism and convention industry. Orlando shared information with us; we shared information with LA; I'm sure we'll be sharing information with Chicago, because at the end of the day, this conference is important regardless of what city it's in, and that the best of the United States is showcased."

Intro: Recorded live at our IPW podcast studio in Los Angeles, California: welcome to Brand USA Talks Travel. This is your all-access pass to hear from top industry leaders, exploring the vital topics and exciting prospects shaping travel in 2024 and beyond. Now here's your host, Mark Lapidus.

Mark Lapidus [0:19]: I'm curious about the IPW handoff. Since you hosted IPW last year in San Antonio, is there a process in place between hosting cities, or does that happen organically?

Marc Anderson [0:29]: It happens organically, because we're part of a very friendly tourism and convention industry. But Orlando shared information with us; we shared information with LA; I'm sure we'll be sharing information with Chicago, because at the end of the day, this conference is important regardless of what city it's in, and that the best of the United States is showcased to the, I guess this year, 5,700 travel buyers and media from across the globe.

Mark Lapidus [0:58]: I'm delighted to have with me Marc Anderson, CEO of Visit San Antonio. Marc was the Chief Operating Officer at Choose Chicago before he landed in Texas. Welcome to Brand USA Talks Travel, Marc.

Marc Anderson [1:07]: Thank you, I'm glad to be here.

Mark Lapidus [1:09]: You joined Visit San Antonio as CEO in 2021. Would you like to share some of the highlights of your role so far?

Marc Anderson [1:15]: Sure. We really made storytelling the key pillar of our company, right after I started.

Mark Lapidus [1:20]: Ah, a brother-in-arms.

Marc Anderson [1:22]: We elevated our public relations and communications. We went all-on with our marketing. We used to be seasonal; we're now on 12 months a year, primarily digital. We pulled away from TV because TV is, in some cases, inefficient and way too expensive to get our message across. We took social media in-house, and really, we are owning the storytelling for the city of San Antonio, and telling that story not only domestically, but also really for the first time outside of Mexico, telling the story globally as well.

Mark Lapidus [1:52]: What are some of the other key markets other than Mexico for San Antonio?

Marc Anderson [1:56]: So we've expanded our Mexico office; it will continue to be, and will always be, the number one international market. We now have representation in Canada. We have our first overseas office in the United Kingdom that we opened in 2022. We opened two offices in China in October of '23, and we also opened offices in Germany, because May 17th of this year, we are launching our first-ever transatlantic flight to Frankfurt, Germany, on Condor Airlines. So obviously, it's very important to have boots on the ground in Germany, telling the stories of San Antonio and why they should fly to San Antonio.

Mark Lapidus [2:32]: Congratulations on that.

Marc Anderson [2:33]: Thank you very much.

Mark Lapidus [2:34]: I had never been in San Antonio until IPW last year, and I just love the River Walk.

Marc Anderson [2:38]: Yeah, it's really a spectacular city. People don't realize it's the seventh largest city in the United States.

Mark Lapidus [2:43]: I didn't know that until I went there.

Marc Anderson [2:44]: But it's also one of the fastest-growing. In fact, in 2022, it was the fastest-growing city in the United States of America. And it's also one of the oldest, it's 306 years old. So it has the history and the carefully curated heritage and diversity, but it's also a city that recognizes the growth and evolution is so important to our future, and we're laser-focused on that as well.

Mark Lapidus [3:07]: So what are some of the key themes that you use in your storytelling?

Marc Anderson [3:10]: Authenticity, diversity, our heritage, our really rich dichotomy of cultures between our Mexican and rich German heritage. Our growth and evolution is also a really important piece of our messaging, that while we are one of the oldest cities in the United States of America and the seventh largest city in the country, we are positioned for growth like really no other city in the United States. It's about 50 people a day moving to San Antonio. Texas as a whole has taken over as the most Fortune 500 companies in the United States of America. And it's a city that is very unique to other Texas cities, being that we're one of the most historic, but we're also growing and evolving faster than anybody else.

Mark Lapidus [3:52]: So I just met you a few minutes ago as you were coming out of a press conference, and I couldn't help but notice you were surrounded by so many people. Obviously, you know a lot of folks in travel industry. So I'd love to hear what you heard at this IPW from your colleagues and friends. What are people saying this year?

Marc Anderson [4:07]: I think they are thrilled that this pandemic is behind us, I think, finally; we had what, a little bit more than 5,000 attendees in San Antonio, but China had not really opened up last year. So we saw, I think there were 50 people in the delegation in China in 2023. I think that's more than tripled for 2024 in Los Angeles. So people are really excited that we are back to pre-pandemic levels of occupancy. But they're also, we're hearing time and again, while they love LA and LA tourism, and Adam Burke and his team have done a really phenomenal job, that they really enjoyed their experience in San Antonio, because it was many, many people's first time in our city. It was your first time.

Mark Lapidus [4:48]: Yeah, including me.

Marc Anderson [4:49]: It is a city that you really have to experience firsthand to understand the beauty and the warmth, the diversity, to showcase it to yourself and also to others.

Mark Lapidus [4:58]: I spend quite a bit of time just walking around. You have a very walkable city, which is quite nice.

Marc Anderson [5:02]: One of the most special things is that it's safe, it's completely walkable. It's more affordable than some other cities in Texas, and also the United States. But we've opened 12 new hotels, 175 new restaurants since the beginning of the pandemic.

Mark Lapidus [5:17]: Wow, that's a lot of construction.

Marc Anderson [5:19]: There's a lot of construction in downtown San Antonio. But what we say to visitors is that, think about when you come back in a few years, how much richer the downtown area is going to be. We're spending $900 million, so, in effect, a billion dollars in cultural improvements in downtown San Antonio, including the $500 million Alamo plan, which will be completed in 2027.

Mark Lapidus [5:40]: I have to say, by the way, I just love the Alamo also. To the experience in the museum, which I didn't expect at all. I mean, that was a special treat.

Marc Anderson [5:48]: Yeah, the collection center, which is you're referring to, is where Phil Collins-

Mark Lapidus [5:52]: I had no idea!

Marc Anderson [5:53]: -From Genesis has given us $70 million of Alamo artifacts, because he fell in love with the movie from John Wayne, and started collecting. The new museum, and the visitor center, will open in 2027, and it's currently under renovation and construction because it's part of a historic building. In San Antonio, we like to protect our historic buildings and keep them in place and renovate them. So that's where the new visitor center and museum will be.

Mark Lapidus [6:19]: Mark, a few minutes ago, when I asked you about themes, one of the things you touched on was diversity. I know that one of your priorities is diversity, equity, and inclusion. So tell me what you're doing in that space.

Marc Anderson [6:28]: Well, when you look at our new marketing campaign, "Real & True," which was our first marketing campaign, branding campaign that launched in more than a decade. It launched last year right before IPW in May of 2023. You will recognize the sheer diversity of the city, including the piece of DEI that many people miss out on, which is people with disabilities. In San Antonio, and a major part of our story, is that we are home to the only ultra-accessible theme park in the entire world, Morgan's Wonderland, that was created for people with all abilities. And that is a really proud message that we spread across the world. We were just in Europe for several weeks, and I did a ton of radio interviews in London. And that was really the main showcase of all eight of the podcast and radio interviews, is Morgan's Wonderland, and that one in four of the visitors in Morgan Wonderland are children that don't have any disabilities. But it's a place that if you have young children under the age of 10, that you can feel safe, that they're going to be safe in a really friendly environment.

Mark Lapidus [7:27]: Whose idea was it?

Marc Anderson [7:28]: It was Gordon Hartman's idea. Morgan is Mr. Hartman's daughter, and he took the initiative. He opened it up. There's Morgan's Wonderland, but the entire campus is now branded Morgan; he's opening a hospital, he's opening a hotel. So he's expanding the Morgan brand for his daughter. In honor of his daughter.

Mark Lapidus [7:46]: Could you describe the inside a little bit?

Marc Anderson [7:48]: There are places you visit in your life where you just feel welcome and you feel safe, and you feel protected, whether you're 53 or you're 5. You feel safe, and you feel like this is a place where you could just be yourself. And how wonderful it is for these families that bring their children that are not disabled, but they're experiencing children that have disabilities, but they're playing with them. They're on theme park rides with them. They're on- the tallest zip line in all of Texas is in Morgan's Wonderland. So what a great experience for those kids to recognize and realize that while there are differences between all human beings, we also have to accept all human beings.

Mark Lapidus [8:28]: I'm so glad that you brought that up, because I'm going to find out more information about it. IPW will be in Chicago next year; what top-line advice do you have for them?

Marc Anderson [8:36]: We booked the IPW conference in 2015. I wouldn't say planning started in '15, but planning started even before I started in 2021. It is an all hands on deck procedure for a city, so I would encourage them to really use it as an opportunity to coalesce nontraditional partners throughout the city. I think one of the things that benefited us the most besides exposing our city to buyers and media was that we showed the city of San Antonio that excellence can be achieved by collaboration and by breaking down the silos of what can sometimes happen in a big city or through city government. As a result of that, we launched a Christmas market in December of 2023 with the city of San Antonio and an organization called Centro. We had our first ever Christmas Kris Kringle Market, and we had something like 150,000 people that came to the first weekend. It's going to be a legacy event, that when I'm retired in 15 years, it's going to be still happening, and in 100 years, it's still going to be happening. Then we are doing the same as a result of IPW, we are launching our first-ever city and Visit San Antonio and Centro-driven Fourth of July celebration, with a major drone show as well, for the residents of San Antonio and the visitors.

Mark Lapidus [9:55]: Certainly seems like a natural for San Antonio.

Marc Anderson [9:57]: Yes.

Mark Lapidus [9:58]: Marc, it's been such a pleasure having you today and meeting for the first time, because we had never met before. So thank you so much for joining me.

Marc Anderson [10:03]: Thank you very much. It was great.

Mark Lapidus [10:05]: And that's it for today for Brand USA Talks Travel Live from Los Angeles, California. I'm Mark Lapidus, thanks for listening.

Outro [10:12]: If you enjoyed this Live from IPW episode, please share with your friends in the travel industry. Production and music by Asher Meerovich. Media producer, Nthanze Kariuki, with assistance from Casey D'Ambra. Engineering, Brian Watkins, Kat Pommer, and Antonio Tyler. Art by Mimi Jung. Special thanks to Peter Dodge and Colleen Mangone. More Live from IPW episodes coming soon. Safe travels!

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In This Episode:
Marc Anderson's Headshot
Marc Anderson
President & CEO, Visit San Antonio

Mark Lapidus' Headshot
Mark Lapidus
Host, Brand USA Talks Travel Podcast; Vice President, Content & Marketing Technology