Tourism officials say the city’s depressed visitors industry will fully recover — but maybe not until the end of 2023.

“Recovery from COVID will be a long, volatile process,” Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, told the City Council on Thursday.

The goal in 2024, she said, will be to recreate the record year San Antonio had in 2018 when 40 million visitors came here, and the average hotel occupancy rate hit 67 percent.

Tourism, San Antonio’s third-largest industry, has been hard hit by traveling restrictions resulting from the pandemic.

Beginning in March, many of San Antonio’s scheduled conventions either were canceled or postponed, and thousands of industry workers — many of them hotel employees — have lost their jobs.

Only 37.2 percent of hotel rooms in the San Antonio metropolitan area were filled in October 2020, compared to 63.65 percent in the same month a year earlier, according to STR, which tracks hotel occupancy.

Matej, whose public-private nonprofit markets San Antonio to convention planners and travelers, said her estimate of a three-year recovery is based on projections by Tourism Economics, a consulting firm hired by Visit San Antonio.

In a presentation Wednesday, Tourism Economics President Adam Sacks said at Visit San Antonio’s annual meeting that local tourism would fully rebound within several years. But currently “travel confidence has stalled,” with 46 percent of Americans telling surveyors they’re uncomfortable with flying, he added.

The national economy’s recovery is slowing as the number of coronavirus cases spikes and more people avoid traveling.

“The next four to five months will be difficult,” he said.

Tourists from other parts of Texas, Sacks said, will help maintain San Antonio tourism through the first quarter of 2021.

At the City Council, Matej said her organization would focus much of its $7 million marketing budget over the next year on in-state, or drive-market, visitors — who made up 70 percent of guests to San Antonio before the pandemic.

In the second quarter, smaller meetings will resume, Sacks said, but larger convention groups likely won’t meet in person until the second half of 2021.

The Convention Center has seen almost all of its 2020 events canceled or postponed. Visit San Antonio statistics show 17 canceled citywide meetings 2021 that would have resulted in 150,500 attendees and an overall economic impact of $118.9 million.

Two large cancellations included the American Chemical Society’s national convention from March 21-25 and the Association of Corporate Counsel’s 2021 annual meeting from Oct. 15-20.

However, Matej said, 59 events still are scheduled for 2021, with a total of 250,000 attendees expected.

She raised the possibility of making COVID-19 tests available at the Convention Center for attendees in the future. She said Visit SA plans to discuss the matter with Community Labs, a San Antonio nonprofit that provides rapid tests results.

Matej expects conventions to be smaller in the future, with San Antonio competing with smaller markets such as Austin.

On the other hand, she said, groups that would have considered major convention cities such as Atlanta and New Orleans, but not San Antonio, will be in the potential mix for the Convention Center.

Anther part of the Visit San Antonio marketing plan for next year includes targeting millennials “who replaced urban families” as the top visitor group to the city during the summer, making up 35 percent of visitors.

“This learning is critical as it spurred our advertising to pivot quickly and target travelers in millennial-focused media,” Visit San Antonio officials said in the organization’s business plan presented to city council members.

Visit SA also plans to continue to target visitors from Mexico. Most foreign visitors here come from Mexico.