GALVESTON

In an ongoing effort to discourage tourists from traveling to Galveston during the coronavirus crisis, the city has ordered hotel guests and short-term guests in RV parks to leave the island.

The city made the same demand of short-term rental guests earlier this week.

City officials at the time said they wanted to keep hotels open for emergency uses but ran into difficulties with that plan.

Mayor Jim Yarbrough’s new orders, signed Friday, require most guests in hotels and RV parks to leave the island by 10 a.m. today.

The new order also stiffens the fines for short-term vacation rental operators who violate the ban ordered earlier this week.

“It’s our intent to get tourists off the island,” Yarbrough said.

RV operators also can’t remain in public parks or commercial lots for more than two hours, according to the order.

The order does not apply to hotels contracted with governmental entities to house essential personnel or to employees essential to hotel operations.

Essential personnel include health care, grocery store, social service, trash collection, sanitation, news media and child care workers, among others, according to the order.

Yarbrough signed an order Tuesday banning guests booked in short-term rentals for less than 30 days, and it was time to include hotels, he said.

“These are progressive, incremental changes,” Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough earlier this week had said he wanted to keep hotels open in case the city wanted to use them to house first-responders or other essential city personnel.

The city might not be able to that, however, he said.

“We were operating under an assumption that turned out not to be the case,” Yarbrough said.

The new orders also require hotels to limit their dining rooms to take-out and room service only. Despite an order last week closing the dining rooms of restaurants and bars, hotel restaurants had remained open to serve guests as long as the staff enforced social distancing rules.

Yarbrough also imposed bigger fines on short-term-rental operators who lease their properties to guests for less than 30 days in defiance of the order.

In the original order, owners could face a one-time $1,000 fine, but under the new rules, owners can be fined $500 a day, Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough has gotten complaints from neighbors that groups of people were still staying in some short-term rentals, he said.

The city also was finding short-term rentals that had not registered with the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which regulates and collects occupancy taxes from the businesses, Yarbrough said.

Galveston’s hotel and short-term-rental industry is a key part of its $1.2 billion tourism economy.

Tourism in 2018 provided 9,000 island jobs and attracted 7.2. million people to the island.

Hotels were already emptying well before the mayor issued his order.

From March 15 to March 25, island hotels averaged only 31.2 percent occupancy, compared to 68.7 percent a year ago, according to park board data.

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

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(6) comments

Coote Wright-Broughton

The order should state, go to where your drivers license says you reside, if your license doesn’t say galveston Texas, you shouldn’t be here. Even if you own a second home here you are a burden on the local resources that the mayor is trying to conserve. Andrew Wright-Broughton

Carlos Ponce

Andrew writes, "if your license doesn’t say galveston Texas, you shouldn’t be here." That doesn't say much for the thousands who live on the Mainland and commute daily to jobs on the island. I know health care providers who work at UTMB, Shriners, etc who don't live on the island. Are they not welcome? Can islanders fill the jobs if they are no longer welcome?

Jim Forsythe

Carlos, you know what Andrew was talking about. He was talking about people staying in Galveston. It's a big difference between the hotel and short-term RV park guests and people that work in Galveston.

Carlos Ponce

That's not what he posted.

Walter Dannenmaier

If only there were convenient places to control access to the community...

dawn wilson

Thank you for finally making the right decision. It wasn't just about STR's but any place that large groups would gather.

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