Study Reveals River Walk’s Importance to San Antonio Economy

Sara Gruber |
A treasure for locals, businesses and visitors, the River Walk plays a vital role in the health of San Antonio’s economy. To better pinpoint its impact, the City of San Antonio (Center City Development and Convention & Visitors Bureau), Paseo del Rio Association and San Antonio River Authority partnered to commission a year-long study to learn more about the types of visitors the River Walk receives and how many.
“The San Antonio River has always been the heart and soul of San Antonio; indeed the river was the impetus for the beginning of our wonderful city,” said Nancy Hunt, Executive Director of the Paseo del Rio Association. “ The River Walk reflects the history, culture and ambiance that defines San Antonio and makes it such a unique and popular destination, for visitors and locals alike.  We are delighted to be able to provide data showing the tremendous economic impact that the River Walk generates for our city and state.”
The study concluded that 11.5 million people visit the River Walk annually. Of these, 9.3 million are from outside Bexar County. These visitors stimulate an overall economic impact of $3 billion and directly influence 21,000 San Antonio jobs.  
“Having quantifiable data on the River Walk’s impact details its tremendous contribution to the health of San Antonio’s economy,” said San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, Casandra Matej. “It is because of significant sites like the River Walk, that tourism is one of San Antonio’s top five industries, employing one in eight locals and contributing $12 billion annually.”
Some 2.2 million River Walk patrons are locals. Approximately two thirds of local respondents indicated they visit the River Walk more than twice a year. This is a key element as the city’s tourism infrastructure also improves quality of life for locals and businesses, enhancing the vibrancy of San Antonio.
Lori Houston, Director of Center City Development noted, “The River Walk is a historic landmark for our city, and the unique character it brings to downtown is a key attraction for new development in the center city.  The study is a valuable tool as we can now quantify the economic impact of our river and share this information with our existing and future downtown stakeholders. “
Originally a Works Project Administration project that debuted in 1941, the River Walk has grown to 15 miles. Recent additions paved the way for continued economic growth and provide additional options for visitors and locals alike. Included are the Museum Reach’s lock and dam system, public art installations and access to museums and Pearl, as well as the Mission Reach’s historic and ecological appeal, hiking, biking and kayaking options. Additionally, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center’s location on the River Walk connects meeting attendees to thousands of hotel rooms, shops, restaurants and attractions. This helps San Antonio’s reputation as a top meeting destination, which also impacts the health of the tourism industry and San Antonio’s bottom line.  
“The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) supported the River Walk Impact Study because we understand the value of having reliable, quantifiable data,” said Suzanne Scott, SARA’s General Manager. “The conservative estimate of a $3.1 billion annual economic impact of the River Walk demonstrates the enormous return on the public investment that results from projects such as the Museum Reach and Mission Reach. Given the river’s significant impact for our community, we believe it’s important for the community to protect this important natural and economic resource by working together to preserve and enhance the San Antonio River Watershed.”
The River Walk is a key component for selling San Antonio, whether to potential businesses, residents or visitors. It improves quality of life and is a foundational element for the city’s economic success.
The San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, a department of the City of San Antonio, is funded through the hotel/motel occupancy tax. The bureau is a marketing, sales and service organization dedicated to the promotion of San Antonio as a meetings and visitor destination for the purpose of positively affecting the city’s economy.
The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) was created by the 45th Texas Legislature on May 5, 1937 and reorganized in 1961 to plan, manage and implement water-related programs and projects within the San Antonio River Watershed. The State of Texas empowered SARA to preserve, protect and manage the resources and the ecology of the San Antonio River and its tributaries. To learn more about the SARA, visit our website at
The Paseo del Rio Association is a membership based not-for-profit organization dedicated to promote, protect and preserve the San Antonio River Walk.  The Association accomplishes this through the production of special events along the river Walk throughout the year, and through the publication of Rio Magazine, a monthly visitor magazine distributed to 35,000 each month.  The Association serves as an advocate, facilitator and moderator among the business, civic and governmental communities on matters concerning the River Walk. 
The Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO) facilitates and initiates the development and redevelopment of neighborhoods, businesses and cultural resources downtown.  CCDO serves as a resource and provides direction to enhance the livability, commerce, infrastructure and prosperity for a vibrant Center City.