Tourism bureaus work to balance needs of citizens, attract visitors

San Marcos already welcomes thousands of visitors to its tourist attractions each year, and if one business owner is successful, the city could play host to thousands more within the next few years.

That is the hope of Earl Studdard, president of North Carolina Furniture Direct, who is working to recruit the National Youth Baseball Championship and its fans from throughout the country, contributing to the area's economy as they pay for food, hotels and recreation.

NCFD is nearing completion of the North Carolina Furniture Direct Farm Club, an 88-acre baseball facility on Old Zorn Road.

Six stadium-seating fields for age 12 and under, or 12U, players are complete in one area, with another two 18U/13U stadiums and four 12U stadium fields in the works for completion by next summer.

"We should have some pretty influential folks touring our facility this summer," Studdard said, including the cable sports network ESPN. "When we have the first six fields playing, you are looking at 1,000 people there a day."

Several youth baseball associations are interested in hosting tournaments or practice at the facility, he said, making it yet another feature in the San Marcos economy that focuses not only on local use but also on regional and statewide visitors.

Generating revenues

Promoting a city to tourists has a clear effect on the economy, said Rebecca Ybarra-Ramirez, executive director of the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau.

"San Marcos was one of the first communities [in Texas] to have roadside attractions," Ybarra-Ramirez said. "For every dollar spent on tourism advertising in the state of Texas, $7 are spent [by visitors]."

She said the Tanger Factory Outlet Center and the San Marcos Premium Outlets consistently generate at least 25 percent of all sales tax revenues for the city.

In June, the city saw an 8.5 percent increase in sales tax revenue compared with the amount it received in 2011.

City officials said that whether the ebb and flow of sales tax returns can be attributed to tourism or just to the general dynamics of a local economy can be difficult to determine.

"To say [an increase in sales tax returns] is specifically from tourism is hard to say. We are trying to get more specific info from the state comptroller's office," said Steve Parker, director of finance for the City of San Marcos.

Ban on disposable containers

Parker said some increase in tourists to San Marcos this summer may also be related to the ban on disposable containers in the rivers in New Braunfels.

"A lot of retailers in the New Braunfels area are down," he said.

In August 2011, the City of New Braunfels banned all disposable containers from entering the river, including beer cans, water bottles and resealable plastic bags. River outfitters in San Marcos have taken notice.

"I know that there is some overflow from there," said Rocko Moses, owner of Texas State Tubes. "The uncertainties of what you can do and what you can't do is driving people away from New Braunfels. We've experienced a big surge."

Parks rules similar to those in New Braunfels will take effect in Jan. 1, 2013, in San Marcos, though in San Marcos, the ban will be more strict.

While alcoholic beverages may still be consumed in city parks and brought onto the rivers in New Braunfels—so long as they are in reusable containers—in San Marcos, alcohol will be prohibited in the parks as well as on city-owned dams, spillways and bridges.

Cities cannot explicitly ban alcohol on the rivers because they are state-owned waterways.

Challenges of tourism

Judy Young, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau with the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, said the ban on disposable containers changes the way visitors interact with the river.

"It's kind of a market shift," Young said. "From a public relations perspective, it's really hard to say that you're OK with litter."

Litter, along with parking and safety issues, is one of the challenges out-of-town visitors bring to a city.

Dianne Wassenich, executive director of the San Marcos River Foundation, said in an email that the group is happy with the new rules in San Marcos.

"[The rules address] issues that have been building for many years in San Marcos, especially since Rio Vista Falls was created," Wassenich wrote.

She said that around Rio Vista, the riverbanks suffer from serious erosion problems, which causes runoff to more quickly enter the river.

Runoff combined with what Wassenich described as a major litter issue results in trash finding its way from park lawns into the river and downstream.

"No one really is able to pick up all the plastic bits and debris that covers just about every square inch of the ground," she said. "Those bits will wash into the river, and fish and birds and turtles will eat them and die."

Wassenich emphasized that the litter is not only the result of tourists visiting the parks and river. She cited the amount of trash she observed after the July 4 fireworks display in the parks—an event generally attended by more residents than guests.

According to the City of New Braunfels, litter collection decreased 70 percent in June compared with June 2011, and in May it was down 96 percent. Almost 25,000 gallons of litter were collected in May 2011 compared with slightly more than 1,000 gallons in May 2012.

According to retailers and outfitters, visitor traffic has decreased considerably in New Braunfels.

"It's worse than last year. I just went to a meeting, and Schlitterbahn is down, too," said Dena Felger, co-owner of Felger's Tubes in New Braunfels.

Felger's Tubes is on the Comal River, which has seen one other immediate effect of the ban.

"It is cleaner that's for sure," Felger said.



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