Tourist industry groups and operators are pushing for at least partial reopening of large attractions that remain closed two weeks after the state eased restrictions on travel and many businesses.
Reopening amusements would put more money into the local economies and give visitors from across Texas — who since May 1 have been gathering on island beaches and in county parks and marinas — more to do, the groups argue.
The Texas Travel Alliance, in a letter sent last week to Gov. Greg Abbott, pushed for partial reopening of large amusements to 50 percent capacity by Memorial Day weekend, which begins May 22.
Representatives of popular water resort Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resort signed the letter in support of reopening theme parks, zoos, aquariums and other attractions.
Spokespersons for Schlitterbahn, which operates a park at 2026 Lockheed Road in Galveston, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Spokespersons for Landry’s Inc., which owns the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier at 25th Street and Seawall Boulevard, also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The letter, which included specific procedures by which amusements could open and maintain social distance, was meant to show how amusements could reenter the economy, as many other businesses have begun to do, said Erika Boyd, spokeswoman for the Texas Travel Alliance.
Abbott’s office hasn’t issued such guidance for larger amusements, Boyd said.
“It’s still all up in the air,” Boyd said. “For most of our organizations, their employees are ready.”
For local attractions, it’s still a waiting game, said Jerri Hamachek, spokeswoman for Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Blvd.
“We’re kind of just making plans so we can make a prompt opening once we do hear that we can reopen,” Hamachek said.
Moody Gardens officials hope to get direction from the governor next week, Hamachek said. The attraction’s managers are anxious to reopen but planning to do so in a limited way, she said.
For example, Moody Gardens probably won’t immediately reopen the Discovery Pyramid, which has a lot of interactive features that people touch, Hamachek said.
“At this point, we don’t feel like that’s necessary,” Hamachek said.
Early closures demonstrated how crucial tourism was to the county’s economy. On the island alone, the $1.2 billion industry accounts for about 9,000 jobs and attracts 7.2 million visitors during a normal year.
But large attractions contribute significant revenue both to the state and local economies, Boyd said.
Travel spending generated $4.5 billion in state sales tax revenue in 2018, according to the travel alliance.
The same year, tourism generated $26.6 million in local tax revenue in Galveston, excluding hotel occupancy tax revenue, according to the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
“We contribute so much revenue both at the local and the state level and we see right now the impacts that those lost tax revenues are having,” Boyd said.
For other area attractions, reopening is still up in the air.
Space Center Houston, north of League City at 1601 E. NASA Parkway, is awaiting guidance from local and state health authorities but is looking forward to reopening, spokeswoman Meridyth Moore said.
“We do not have a reopening date set at this time,” Moore said. “However, we are working toward reopening this summer.”
Abbott’s executive orders still advise people to avoid visiting bowling alleys, video arcades, amusement parks and water parks.