GALVESTON

Hotels and vacation rentals are booked and many thousands of people are headed this way.

Public safety officials expect normal holiday weekend crowds of between 250,000 and 500,000 visitors on the island for Memorial Day, despite continued social distancing recommendations to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Businesses are preparing for a hectic weekend, a welcome relief after two months of stifled operations, but whether the activity bodes well for the rest of the summer is uncertain.

On a Wednesday afternoon, beach crowds already looked like those of normal summer days, Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis said.

“We’re pretty much open for business as usual,” Davis said.

Although there’s a chance of rain, there’s a good chance the island will see the high end of normal Memorial Day weekend crowds — 250,000 to 500,000 visitors, he said.

Beach Patrol has been checking the more than 600 signs it maintains on beaches, increasing security at the beach parks and preparing the 65 lifeguards it has ready to work after a May training academy, he said.

Guards will encourage people to practice social distancing, but staying spread out mostly will be up to beachgoers, Davis said.

“We don’t have the ability to make that our top priority,” Davis said.

Davis hopes to recruit as many as 50 more guards in June to increase staffing and cover normal attrition, he said.

City police vehicles will be posted in parking spaces on the north side of Seawall Boulevard between 27th and 28th streets and between 31st and 35th streets to help control crowds, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

“We’re preparing for the holiday weekend,” Barnett said. “We’re staffing public safety personnel for a busy summer weekend and, as always, there will be strict traffic enforcement.”

PREPARING FOR A BUSY WEEKEND

Hotel operators expect to be fully booked this weekend, said Willis Gandhi, president of the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association. Some already were by Thursday, he said.

Gandhi also owns local properties such as Best Western Plus, 8502 Seawall Blvd.

His properties weren’t fully booked, but he expected them to be before the weekend, he said.

“People are booking up last minute,” Gandhi said. “They’re booking the same day.”

Restaurant operators expect to be busy, too, especially with state restrictions easing slightly this weekend. Starting today, restaurants can increase their seating capacity to 50 percent from 25 percent.

At Tortuga Mexican Kitchen, 6010 Seawall Blvd., that means resuming table service, said Areli Taboada, a manager at the restaurant.

Limited to only 25 percent capacity, Tortuga had shifted to counter service, requiring people to order first and then be seated to wait for their food.

This weekend probably will be busy, just like it was the first weekend beaches reopened after pandemic closures, Taboada said.

“We’re preparing for a busy weekend,” Taboada said.

During the three weeks since state orders reopened beaches May 1, people from across Texas have rushed to the island, eager to get out of the house after about two months of stay-at-home orders.

The return of tourists is vital to the island’s economy. In 2018, the $1.2 billion tourism industry drew 7.2 million people and accounted for about 9,000 island jobs, according to Galveston Park Board of Trustees data.

But whether the rest of summer delivers what Memorial Day weekend promises remains to be seen.

Those in the hotel industry are just hoping for nice weather this summer, Gandhi said.

“We just play it week by week,” Gandhi said. “There’s no guarantee what’s going to happen.”

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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