Hotel revenue down in Bay Area; tourism groups shift focus to daytrippers

Galveston Island beach, Gulf of Mexico, Galveston Bay
(Courtesy Galveston Island Park Board)

(Courtesy Galveston Island Park Board)

While COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Harris and Galveston counties, local tourism groups have reported a drop in hotel and motel revenue.

In Galveston, hotel occupancy tax funds—or tax income from hotels and motels that fund the Galveston Island Park Board—decreased dramatically. In May, the board saw nearly $865,000 in hotel and motel tax funds compared to $1.11 million in May 2019.

July especially saw a big hit, considering beaches were closed the July 4 weekend. The Fourth of July is the single biggest revenue day for businesses in coastal cities, said Kelly de Schaun, the executive director for the park board.

“The loss of that weekend was significant to Galveston from a business perspective,” she said.

De Schaun said officials expect it will take three years before Galveston’s tourism industry returns to where it was prepandemic, and the city expects to lose some businesses along the way.

The story is similar farther north.

The League City Convention and Visitors Bureau saw only $52,321 in second-quarter hotel tax funds. That is about one-third of the $146,731 the bureau collected in the second quarter of 2019.

Polk said the pandemic’s effect on tourism in the area is “unprecedented.”

“It’s changed everything, but we’re all trying to stay very positive,” she said.

However, not all is doom and gloom.

While hotel and motel rentals are down, short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs, are going “gangbusters,” de Schaun said. In May, Galveston saw nearly $458,000 in hotel tax funds for short-term rentals compared to $386,143 in May 2019.

Tourism groups are shifting their focus from attracting out-of-state visitors to those nearby. The goal is to bring in locals trying to get out of their houses for a day trip to Space Center Houston, the Kemah Boardwalk or Galveston beaches, officials said.

Tourists seem especially interested in outdoor activities, considering being outside results in a smaller chance of spreading COVID-19 than being indoors.

“It seems to be where people feel the most comfortable,” de Schaun said.

In Clear Lake and League City, residents can rent kayaks and canoes and paddle along Clear Creek. The Bay Area is home to hundreds of species of migrating birds that are a popular attraction, and many of the Kemah Boardwalk’s attractions are outdoors.

League City recently put up a billboard near Loop 610 that reads, “The water starts here” to attract Houston residents to the city.

“We are safely marketing what we can to capture what business we can,” Polk said.

Galveston beaches closed at the beginning of the pandemic and did not open until May. When they did, people flocked to them. Galveston collected $709,623 in beach admission fees in May compared to $496,690 in May 2019, according to city data.

“There’s a great demand to be on the coast,” de Schaun said.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.



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