New coats of paint are going on the pavilion at Galveston’s popular East Beach.
New bollards are being planted in the sand to define the parking lots.
New lifeguards have begun training, and the sun, the glorious sun, is making more frequent appearances in the sky.
These are the signs that Galveston’s winter season, which was unusually long and cold this year, is coming to an end, and the tourist season, upon which so much depends, is about to begin.
Spring break is coming, and local tourism officials say the two-week period is generally treated as an indicator of how the tourism season to come will treat the island.
How the island’s tourism industry performs during the 14 or so days when most Texas public school and college students are out of class and free to travel is an essential indicator for businesses and people whose financial fortunes are made or broken over the summer.
“Spring break kicks off the summer season so it’s vitally important,” said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which manages some aspects of the island’s tourism industry.
A good spring break can create the anticipation that builds for the rest of the tourism season, she said.
Galveston’s beach parks will officially open Saturday, meaning people wanting to park near the beach will have to pay to enter parking lots at East Beach, Stewart Beach and other beach parks managed by the park board.
The hope this year is that this winter’s mostly dreary weather will motivate people to go to the beach early, de Schaun said. A slow February in particular hurt the local tourism economy, after rain dampened most of the two-weekend Mardi Gras celebration.
Local hotels are on pace to beat bookings during last year’s spring break, de Schaun said.
Steve Cunningham, president of the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association, said the local hotel industry hasn’t been hurt too badly by the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey, which in late August inundated much of the Houston metroplex, the island’s primary tourism market.
The next two weeks are the first real test of how some of Galveston’s key tourism markets are feeling about traveling this year, however, he said.
“There’s an unknown about how many Houstonians there are right now that would travel,” Cunningham said. “Other than spring break, we haven’t really been in a travel pattern that would tell us that.”
Cunningham credited the park board for spending extra money to positively market Galveston after Harvey in a way that emphasized the island was open for business and mostly undamaged by the historic storm.
The park board has shifted its marketing efforts from mostly people in the Houston area, which accounts for about 6 million visitors to the island yearly, to areas farther away, de Schaun said.
The idea is that if people are motivated to travel to the island from greater distances, they are more likely to stay in Galveston for the night, and spend more money here, she said.
The number of tourists visiting Galveston has increased for seven straight years, but tourism officials noted those increases have begun to plateau.
This has led to an increased focus on drawing visitors to events scheduled in nonpeak times, when visitor numbers are typically lower.
This year, the island is planning two new events during one of those less-visited times — the gap between spring break and Memorial Day. The Galveston Historical Foundation will host a tall ships festival from April 5 to April 9, featuring six sailing ships anchored in the Port of Galveston.
Later in the month, the island will host the Third Coast Music Festival, which will feature 40 bands playing at multiple venues on the island from April 26 to April 29.