Del Rio City Council members have approved spending $70,000 in hotel occupancy tax money for an American Airlines advertising campaign.

City Public Relations Manager Victoria Vargas pitched the campaign to council members during their Aug. 6 special meeting.

“It will be six pages of editorial coverage in ‘American Way’ magazine. We’ll also get an in-flight destination video that will be eight to 15 minutes long, and we’ll also have social media coverage with American Airlines that reaches over one million people,” Vargas told the council.

The advertising package, she said, is valued at $437,000, and American’s advertising company recently offered it to the city for $125,000. They later reduced that amount even further, to $70,000, she said.

“They want to get it for the November issue, which is why we need to approve it today if you want to move forward,” Vargas said.

Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano said the campaign will also include “12 months of exposure on all international fights aboard American Airlines, which is about four million each month.”

Councilman Diana Bejarano Salgado, who has opposed city spending to subsidize commercial air service, asked Vargas how many tourists to Del Rio were using the airline.

“How many new people are coming in to see what Del Rio has to offer?” Salgado asked.

“I don’t have the exact number which ones are tourists, but I can get that for you,” Vargas said.

“I feel that most of the people, they’re flying from Del Rio to elsewhere, and of course they’re coming back, so a good majority of those (airline passengers) are just the same people going back and forth and not really coming to Del Rio to explore Del Rio, to stay in our hotels, to spend money other than what they would normally spend,” Salgado said.

Vargas said American representatives have informed the city there is “a lot” of traffic coming from Seattle, Wash., to Del Rio for tourism.

“I know there is an exact number, but I don’t have that on me,” Vargas reiterated, adding, “This campaign would actually benefit us by helping us bring in those tourists. It will be on flights and magazines nationwide and internationally and bring us to that market that we haven’t reached yet.”

Lozano, who works in the airline industry, said he believes the investment is “an important marketing tool” and one that will pay off for Del Rio.

“I feel that we have already spent quite a bit on advertising, and we’re still having to supplement the airlines,” Salgado said.

Vargas said the city has not requested the use of any hotel occupancy tax funds to promote the airline during the current fiscal year.

Salgado said she still wants to see the results quantified “in actual numbers.” Councilman Rowland Garza asked why there had been no formal recommendations from the city’s hotel occupancy tax fund committee.

Hotel occupancy tax committee chair Leno Hernandez told the council, “The committee felt it was a great opportunity to present to council, but we weren’t necessarily on a consensus on whether or not it was the most effective way, based off of the quantifications ... This seemed like a real broad stroke, one campaign.”

He added, however, he believed this was an opportunity the city would not likely see again any time soon.

“We did have the same concerns, the quantifications of what the impact looks like,” Hernandez said.

“Well, if the committee had been in favor of it, it would have voted it out, so you took no position, which is like a ‘no’ vote,” Garza said.

“That’s correct, and there were several committee members who expressed concern,” Hernandez replied, adding hotel occupancy tax committee members were most concerned that the entire $70,000 would be spent on only a single advertising campaign.

Councilman Alfredo “Fred” Carranza Jr. said he believes the city “will fill the plane” with residents of Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Coah., Mexico, Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Coah., Mexico, adding he believes more marketing efforts need to be undertaken in the region.

“As for this, I don’t know what the bang for our buck is going to be,” Carranza said.

Vargas told council members she believed the campaign was “a great investment.”

Garza then asked about the overall load factors on American Airlines flights into and out of Del Rio, and Vargas said in July, the airlines had posted an average of 80.8 percent flight occupancy.

She pointed out that hotel occupancy tax monies could not be spent in Del Rio and said, “We’re never going to get this opportunity again.”

Lozano called the campaign “an opportunity for positive national attention,” and the council, after further discussion, voted 4-2 in favor of spending the funds, with Garza and Salgado voting against the measure.

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