What are your summer vacation plans? Chances are they’re going to be a little bit different this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
These days, it’s hard to imagine a sector of the economy with more uncertainty than the tourism industry. While in past years one in four Americans traveled during the summer months, the uncertainty of this global crisis has put a lot of vacations on hold this year, and that might have an impact on tourism to Houston and Galveston.
Just Visiting Houston
In past years, plenty of out-of-town visitors came to Greater Houston to see friends and relatives. Boutique hotels, high-end shopping experiences, or the Theater District draw in others from nearby towns and cities. As the hotel industry has taken a serious hit from the loss of revenue in past months, they’re adapting by utilizing deep cleaning protocols to attract guests in the post-pandemic world.
“Looks like our indicators and what the product has developed over the years is going to match what people are looking for right now in terms of those short getaways that give them that feeling of vacation that they may be missing out on,” Clapham said.
The loss of major conventions and gatherings like Comicpalooza, which brought in roughly $20 million a year, has been a blow to the tourism economy. But also the inability to make long-term plans means many traditional vacations wont be happening, Clapham said.
“Timing. That’s what changes in this post-pandemic world is traditional vacations — both the time frame, the amount of days, and the attribution of somebody converts and makes that decision has completely changed,” she said.
Exploring Our Immediate Surroundings
Woody expects plenty of Houstonians to get out of the city and explore places within driving distance, such as Galveston Island.
“We’re seeing a good number of people visiting the island,” he said. “A lot of research that we’ve been really exploring though this whole COVID-19 response is to talk about the desire for people to go to the beach.”
Galveston is expecting a sudden surge of travelers as some pandemic restrictions are lifted. But many voiced concerns over a lack of social distancing and rowdy behavior from party goers during “Go Topless Jeep Weekend” on Bolivar Peninsula May 16-17.
To reduce COVID-19 risk throughout Galveston, vehicle restrictions and signage have been put in place while additional law enforcement personnel has been hired to walk the beaches and tourist areas to remind people to practice social distancing and wear a mask.
Woody says the good news is there’s plenty of room for social distancing.
“The great thing is, with 32 miles of beach, we’re really able to get people to move around and not have big areas of concentration,” he said.
If you are going to travel — either nearby or farther away — Dr. Tazim Jamal, a professor in the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University, has recommendations. She says, like we’ve heard time and again throughout this public health crisis — maintaining a safe physical distance from others is key and to only visit places with strong disinfecting and sanitizing practices in place.
If you’re travel includes a plane or a bus, Jamal recommends practicing good hygiene, wearing a mask, and being aware of other health practices and regulations in place to combat the virus by monitoring a reliable source of information, such as the World Health Organization.
“‘Infodedemic‘ is just as much as a problem as our current pandemic,” she said. “We need to look through this for responsibility on all service providers as to what practices they are engaging in. Do not be afraid to ask and really check the policies and practices.”