Discover the Fastest Growing City of Events with Marc Anderson

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Episode description

“No matter who you love, what the color of your skin is, what your religion is, or where you are from in the world, you're welcome here in San Antonio.”

San Antonio is a welcoming city… A city that has something for everyone.

In this episode of Great Events, Marc Anderson, President and CEO of Visit San Antonio, shares the ins and outs of San Antonio, the rich culture and history, the delicious food and culinary experiences, and how the city is redefining the events industry.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How San Antonio is a welcoming and inclusive destination
  • The growth and evolution of San Antonio
  • The behind the scenes of hosting a citywide event

Things to listen for:

  1. [01:41] Introduction and background of Mark Anderson and Visit San Antonio
  2. [06:41] San Antonio's growth and development as a city
  3. [10:59] San Antonio's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
  4. [14:50] Prepare for hosting a citywide event in San Antonio
  5. [19:27] San Antonio's culinary scene and upcoming food festivals

Meet your host

Rachel Andrews, Senior Director of Global Meetings & Events, Cvent

Meet your guest hosts

Marc Anderson, President and CEO of Visit San Antonio

Episode Transcript

Marc Anderson: So we take our diversity, our equity, our inclusion, but also translating that into a welcoming environment for all, where everyone feels safe in San Antonio. No matter who you love, what the color of your skin is, what your religion is, or where you are from in the United States or the world, you're welcome here in San Antonio. And I can honestly feel over the past two plus years, you know, my wife and I have felt welcomed by this community. Our girls have felt welcomed. We've had family members come in from all over the United States, and they're surprised, as you were with Paulina, they came, they hadn't been here. They maybe had a preconceived notion. And then they got here, and they're like, oh, my gosh, this is so much different than I thought and so much more than I thought it was going to be.

Alyssa Peltier: Great events create great brands, and it takes a village to put on an event that engages, excites, and connects audiences to your brand. And we're that village. I'm Alyssa. 

Paulina Giusti:  I'm Paulina.

Rachel Andrews: And I'm Rachel.

Alyssa Peltier: And you're listening to Great Events, the podcast for all people interested in events and Marketing.

Rachel Andrews: Hello, everyone. What is going on in this wide, wide world of events? My name is Rachel Andrews, and welcome to this week's episode of Great Events, a podcast by Cvent. Today we are talking about our huge announcement we made at IMEX that we are bringing Cvent Connect, which is Cvent's annual industry and customer conference, to San Antonio. So today, we thought we'd have a little fun and invite our wonderful partners at Visit San Antonio on the podcast to give a little glimpse of into the city and what we have in store Coming to Cvent connect. So very excited to have visit San Antonio's very own President and CEO, Marc Anderson. Marc, welcome.

Marc Anderson: Hi, Rachel. Long time no see.

Rachel Andrews: We're going to be seeing a lot of each other in the next few months here. We're excited to be bringing Cvent Connect to San Antonio in June 10 through the 13th shameless plug. So if you're listening and you would like to attend and see the beautiful city of San Antonio, let's do it. We're going to have a lot of fun. So before we get started and learn all the things we need to learn about San Antonio, Marc, let's give our listeners a little bit of background on you, how you started in the industry, what makes you passionate about meetings and events. Give them the full glimpse into Marc.

Marc Anderson: Sure. So, my name is Marc Anderson. Again. I'm president CEO of visit San Antonio. I started unbelievably in this industry 30 years ago last year. So 31 years ago, I started off as an assistant at Smith, Buckland and Associates, which is still the country's largest association management firm. And I moved to the supplier side working for New Orleans in 1997. Have represented New Orleans, Chicago. I was with Peninsula Hotels which is a luxury five star, five diamond hotel company based out of Hong Kong for nearly a decade. And I spent most of my career in the city of Chicago working for hotels and with Choose Chicago. And I recently moved to San Antonio with my wife and my family and I in May of 2021. So I'm still kind of a newbie Rachel 

Rachel Andrews: Newbie. Love it.

Marc Anderson: But we are loving our new adventure. I'm loving my new city and all we have to offer. And we are so excited and grateful to everyone at Cvent to have Connect with us in June of 2024.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah. Awesome. Cool. Well, why don't you give some background? Visit San Antonio is an awesome organization. You all do so much for your city and your convention center and just everyone that lives in the city, honestly, and your visitors. So can you give our listeners just a glimpse into what Visit San Antonio does for those that are not familiar with the events industry? Maybe just what a destination like a Visit San Antonio actually does? 

Marc Anderson: Sure. So every city in the country, whether you're big, small, medium size, has a DMO, what used to be called a CBB, which is a convention and visitors bureau, and we are now referred to as destination marketing organizations. And the easiest way to describe it is we are the official sales and Marketing arm for our city. So visit San Antonio's. Task and mission is to welcome the world to San Antonio. We are under contract with the city of San Antonio and with our convention center to fill the convention center with meetings and groups and conventions. And we're also tasked with marketing and communicating the importance of San Antonio and all of our offerings to both a domestic and a global audience through digital marketing, paid media, public relations media, social media, etcetera. So we really look at ourselves as one of the entities that keep the city of San Antonio working. We generated about $15 billion in total economic impact for our city and state last year. And more importantly, we employed more than 140,000 local San Antonians in the hospitality and tourism industry, which is one in seven total San Antonio.

Rachel Andrews: Wow. That's an awesome stat. I think that's also one of the things that when you talk to your families and people outside the meetings and events industry, it's the biggest industry you've never heard of because of things like this. Like 15 million in economic impact, and you're just starting right. That grows every year.

Marc Anderson: Yes. And my parents still think I plan weddings for a living. They have no idea what I do.

Rachel Andrews: We all face that. And I think when you start hearing these stats in the millions of especially business and tourism that we're bringing to different cities, they start to understand a little bit more. But I swear, it's one of those things that we just can't overcome. And we're like, meetings mean business. Hello. This is important for our industry and for other industries, too.

Marc Anderson: And the power of tourism. I mean, not only is an economic impact, but we generate tax revenue for our cities and our state. So, last year, our company influenced more than $250,000,000 in city taxes. That doesn't just go to the convention center or to the restaurants we love or to the hotels. It goes to public schools and our fire departments and our police departments, and Streets and Sanitation. And that's one of the things that makes me most proud to be representing a DMO, is that we really, truly keep our cities working, and we keep people employed. And with food on their table, they're able to send their kids to colleges. And it really makes us proud to represent our cities, but also, in this case, San Antonio.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, meetings do matter. So let's dig into San Antonio. I know you've kind of fallen in love with the city, but you've also been representing it for two years. Let's tell our listeners a little bit more about the city, and we're excited to join next year. What do they have in store for not only as a Cvent connect attendee, but just as a general attendee of your city?

Marc Anderson: Yeah, I mean, I moved here again in May of 21, so I moved at almost 51 years old. First time I had ever left the city that I grew up in, which was Chicago. So my wife and I took a huge step, and I was really looking for a new, fun experience, but also a challenge. And I think prior to the Pandemic, San Antonio is a very humble city, and we wanted to be kind of known as the United States best kept secret, and we don't want to be known as that anymore. We are telling the city to a much broader audience. That's why Cvent and hosting your attendees are so important to our current success, but also for our future success. To see and have people experience a 305 year old city that has carefully curated our history and our heritage, but is also the fastest growing city for the second year in a row in the United States. The 7th largest growing city in the United States.

We've opened 100 new restaurants, twelve new hotels. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there's literally something happening and opening in the city that seems like on a weekly basis, there are cranes and construction all over downtown San Antonio. So it's a really exciting time in our history and we are so excited and really grateful for June of 2024 for your attendees, many of which probably have not been to San Antonio or maybe haven't been in San Antonio for quite some time to experience the historic and the cultural San Antonio, but also to experience the new, growing and evolving San Antonio.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, I just want to comment from a personal perspective. I was there two weeks ago as my first time there. And one, I didn't realize it was the fastest growing or largest, 7th largest, like you just said. And I've been to a bunch of cities in Texas, but I didn't expect San Antonio to be the way that it was. So the word that we used when we came there was unexpected. You know, it is this booming city. It is this foodie town. It is this just kind of like urban, I think.

You know, I saw so many different unique things that are going on, from the bars and restaurant scene to the awesome hotels that have refurbished. We did the whole site tour there. They're building this crazy park next to the convention center, which Civic Park? Is that what it is?

Marc Anderson: Yes, Civic Park.

Rachel Andrews: And that looks like it's going to be just amazing. And so just developing all these attractions for the city, we're really excited to see that come to life next year because a lot of it will be ready by the time we host the Cvent Connect, but is already booming, right?

Marc Anderson: Absolutely. Over the next five years, we're investing $900 million in cultural enhancements in downtown San Antonio. Our airport is going through a $2.5 billion expansion. We've added four new flights domestically and to Mexico in the past ten days. We are launching a new flight to Frankfurt, Germany, through Condor Airlines, which is actually a phenomenal product. I highly recommend it. The business class is great. That is going to launch in May 2024, right before Cvent Connect comes to San Antonio.

So it's a city that, as I mentioned, has carefully preserved and is really careful with their history and culture. But also, it's hard to find another city that also equally believes in the growth and evolution and wants to embrace that. And that's what really attracted to me during the interviewing process is that the search committee and everyone from our mayor through city council to my board of directors to our stakeholders, they understand and they realize the importance of we're a big city, but a small town. And believing in that culture and that diversity and that history, but also that our growth and evolution is really important. I mean, there's something like 48 people a day moving to San Antonio, which is just an astonishing feat upon itself.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah. How do you strike that balance? There's a huge cultural population there. I even met some of them while I was there. But what I was shocked to also realize is the German population that's there too. You guys have a lot of different elements of history. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Marc Anderson: Sure. So. I mean, San Antonio's history is really Mexican, German, heavily Hispanic. We're a city of color. More than 60% of our residents identify as residents of color, primarily Hispanic. We're one of the oldest countries in the United States, and we've been careful to preserve that. So when you see the construction that's going on in downtown San Antonio. You will see new skyscrapers and new buildings, but also we're very careful to look at a building that may have been built in the 18th or 19th century, and we are carefully preserving that and renovating it.

We're seeing that with the Alameda Theater, which we used to be known as one of the Hispanic theaters in the United States that curated Hispanic cultural and arts and culture. And that's going through a major renovation to bring it back to how beautiful it was in the early 19 hundreds. And that will open in early 2024. And you'll just see that continually through downtown San Antonio. Civic Park, which is a new park to us, but it's going to be directly adjacent to the convention center, so the Connect attendees will definitely be able to experience it. You could do up to a 10,000 person outdoor event at Civic Park, which, again, is right down in downtown San Antonio.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, it's all very exciting, and I know one of the things that was exciting for me and just a top of mind, I think, for all event professionals, is the DE&I of the city is incredibly impressive. Like, just the fact that you all are such an inclusive city and the initiatives that you host around that as well.

Marc Anderson: Yeah, actually, we're really excited. Yesterday, the first ever Chief of Staff, head of DE&I, and Visit San Antonio started, and he's really going to help us take and curate our DEI& offerings to the meetings and conventions, but also for our leisure travelers throughout San Antonio. We're one of the most welcoming cities in the United States because of that DE&I component. Again, more than 60% of our residents identify as people of color. We have one of the largest LGBTQ ratios in all of Texas. Honors Councilman Jalen McGee Rodriguez is the only openly gay man on any city council in all of Texas. So we take our diversity, our equity, our inclusion, but also translating that into a welcoming environment for all, where everyone feels safe in San Antonio. No matter who you love, what the color of your skin is, what your religion is, or where you are from in the United States or the world, you're welcome here in San Antonio.

And I can honestly feel over the past two plus years, my wife and I have felt welcomed by this community. Our girls have felt welcomed. We've had family members come in from all over the United States, and they're surprised, as you were with Paulina, they came, they hadn't been here. They maybe had a preconceived notion, and then they got here and they were like, oh, my gosh, this is so much different than I thought and so much more than I thought it was going to be.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, I just remember walking around downtown, everyone was saying hello, talking to me, and I'm just not used to that being in a bigger city and so I was like, did you guys hire actors to talk to us on the riverwalk? Because this is almost jarring because you're like, oh, gosh, they're all talking to me. This is great. But he's right. It's very welcoming, and it is really welcoming community. We love going on the riverwalk and on the boats. The city is all connected through this river. And it's just really cool to see it because you can experience a lot of the city just being on a boat on the riverwalk.

Marc Anderson: Yeah. And I think that's one of the reasons why Cvent Connect is so important and new conventions and new leisure travelers are important to San Antonio is for folks to experience the changes we made in downtown San Antonio, but even the expansion of our riverwalk. The riverwalk used to be two, 3 miles long. It was a very short expanse of nature. In 2015, it was expanded to all 18 miles of the riverwalk. So you were able to take a river barge from downtown San Antonio to the Pearl District, which is about eight to nine blocks from downtown San Antonio. You got to experience the beautiful botanicals and the decades long trees and the foliage and etcetera, and experience it firsthand. What a lovely experiencing it is to experience our growing and evolving city.

Rachel Andrews: Awesome. Well, we're really excited to be there, and I'm hopeful that all of our attendees will get to experience the beauty and all the culture and the accepting nature of everybody there because everyone's your new best friend when you go to San Antonio. So I'm excited for that. I do want to switch gears for a second and talk about as we're starting to prep for Cvent Connect next year. The team over there is just like, rallying around this. And I know you do these services for a lot of citywides that come in, but can you give us a peek behind the curtain as far as your convention center team and your Visit San Antonio team and what you do to prepare for a citywide?

Marc Anderson: Yeah, I mean, being that we are, at the end of the day, a sales and Marketing entity, one of our goals and our initiatives is to help our group customers build their conventions and market them adequately digitally in print or on social media, but also help you with PR and Marketing, PR and media as well. So you and the Cvent Connect team, but all of our major conventions also have a dedicated destination services executive that is assigned to their account that really helps them plan anywhere from eight months out to two years out. You booked this really short term, which we're excited about, but that individual in destination services really going to be on the ground, on the boots, advocate for you here in San Antonio. And that's everything from Marketing assistance that you and the team may need to market the importance of Cvent Connect in San Antonio in June of 24. But they're also going to plan the welcome signage at the airport for all the attendees. So they know once they hit the ground in our San Antonio International Airport that they feel welcome, they feel acknowledged that they know that their experience in San Antonio is going to be bespoke and curated to them. And that's going to continue through their trip to downtown San Antonio, where you're going to be welcomed in each of your hotels. You have our beautiful Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center, which it's only been nine years by the time you experience this next June that that convention center opened. And I can also assure you that the RK Group, which offers the food and beverage at the convention center will be the best food that you've ever experienced at any convention center in the world. And then you also get to experience a completely walkable city. So you can walk to and from the hotels and enjoy the restaurants, the riverwalk, our bars, our museums, our attractions in downtown San Antonio. And then also the know one of things you mentioned is how welcomed you felt. Well, that's because one in seven San Antonians, as I mentioned, are employed in hospitality and the tourism industry. So it's really important that those individuals let our attendees and our clients know that we value and are grateful for their business. So you're going to see that. And so are the Connect attendees next year as well.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, awesome. Well, we're super excited to be coming there next year. And I know everyone that's hosted an event there in the past has given us such great feedback. So is there anything else you want to share with our listeners while we still have know the other thing that.

Marc Anderson: We have really focused on, we've developed a strategic partnership with the James Beard Foundation. So we are not only one of the only two UNESCO cities of astronomy in the United States, but we are now known as the culinary capital of Texas. So if you are a foodie or you love food, and I know you do, Rachel, and I know Paulina does as well, you got to experience some great cuisine when you were at. But just for example, this weekend is our second annual James Beard Foundation tasting Texas Wine and Food Festival. It's the only time the James Beard Foundation in their history has ever put their name or allowed their name on a statewide food festival. So that's this coming up weekend at the end of October, but it's going to be the end of October, hopefully well after I retire. But it shows you just how we're a very festival oriented city. So we're German Chris Kindle Market this December 15 through 17 in downtown San Antonio with something that's called Holidays on Houston.

So there's literally something happening every month in San Antonio. We hope you not only enjoy us, your listeners, but also the Cvent Connect attendees visit us for their meetings and conventions. But it's also a phenomenal place to come for a leisure trip as well to experience a really fast growing United States city, but also a city that is steeped with history, heritage, culture, diversity and really fantastic people.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, well, BRB booking my flight now for the James Beard Festival. I hope you'll all join me down there because that sounds pretty awesome.

Marc Anderson: Come on down.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, I will. Well, thank you Marc, so much for joining us today for our listeners. If you have any questions for Marc, you can find him on LinkedIn or you can reach out to me. As always, if you have any other questions or topics you'd like to see on an upcoming Great Events episode, DM us on LinkedIn or Instagram or send us a note at GreatEvents@cvent.com. Thank you, Marc, so much for joining us on this podcast.

Marc Anderson: Thank you, Rachel.

Rachel Andrews: We are so excited to be bringing Cvent Connect to San Antonio from June 10 through the 13th shameless plug. If you are interested, preregistration is open now, and registration should be open shortly to sure to come join us.

Marc Anderson: And I knew I'm going to see you soon.

Rachel Andrews: Yeah, exactly. Thanks again, Marc.

Marc Anderson: Thanks. Bye everybody. Thank you.