The shift in thinking among island leaders about Galveston tourism is encouraging and shows the city has come a long way from the days when any tourist would do and at any cost.

There was a time when Galveston’s approach was more hat in hand, with the underlying assumption that it was lucky to get any dollar by any means, even if it caused headaches to locals. And there was a time when most of the marketing and promotions centered on the beaches and festivals, largely ignoring other aspects of the historic seaport city.

But the tide is turning. City leaders have lately been asking themselves whether the yearly flow of tourists onto the island is reaching a saturation point. They’re also shifting their promotional efforts to focus more on the island’s arts and cultural offerings, along with eco-tourism. The idea is quality versus quantity.

Never has tourism been so strong on the island, and never has there been a more important time for city leaders to understand how to better capitalize on that trend in ways that benefits both the residents who live here and the industry that depends on it.

No one is suggesting the island turn away tourists or that the island shouldn’t appreciate its visitors. Tourism is far too important to the economy to shrug off or discourage. But city officials are right to consider what kind of tourism to promote in a way that lifts all boats.

Galveston’s tourism volume has increased by 60 percent since 2009, up from 4.5 million visitors to about 7.2 million last year, according to the Park Board of Trustees, which promotes tourism.

The figure comes from an economic impact study commissioned by the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and conducted by Philadelphia-based Tourism Economics. The report shows that tourism in Galveston has increased steadily for the past several years, with visitation growing nearly 30 percent since 2011.

Employment growth in Galveston’s tourism industry is outpacing overall job growth. Since the 2009 unemployment trough, tourism job growth amounts to 24.2 percent compared to 14 percent for total employment, according to the study.

All these visitors, overnight guests and day trippers, spent $872.2 million here in 2018, according to the study. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

That spending generated $1.2 billion in economic activity, according to the study. Additionally, tourism generated $177.2 million in tax revenues in 2018. Tourism-driven state and local tax proceeds of $87.5 million helped offset the average Galveston household tax burden by $4,233, according to the study.

While tourism generated a significant amount of hotel occupancy tax revenue that’s restricted, it also contributed $49.6 million in local tax revenue, accounting for 49.5 percent of the city of Galveston’s General Fund, according to the study.

The economic impact report was presented last week at the fifth annual Tourism Summit held on the island and organized by the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. More than 500 people from the tourism industry attended the free event.

The time has come to plan for the future and balance the demands of tourists with the needs of residents, Galveston Park Board of Trustees Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said last week at the summit.

“It’s not about increasing the numbers of people,” de Schaun said. “It’s about increasing their spending on the island.”

In the past few years, the park board’s focus has turned to boosting overnight, rather than single-day visitation. People who spend a day on the island spend an average $49 a person, according to park board data. People who stay the night spend an average $115 a person, according to the data.

Industry experts at the summit all agreed the island should do a better job promoting its history and its thriving arts scene.

The beauty of this shift is that it really doesn’t have to cost the island anything, would benefit residents in bringing more discerning tourists who spend more and aren’t here just for a loud party or a T-shirt, and would boost the economy.

Galveston has all the tools it needs to market itself as a destination for culture, said J.P. Bryan, founder of the The Bryan Museum.

“We don’t need to create anything anew,” Bryan said.

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

(18) comments

Bailey Jones

One way of upping the "quality" of visitors is to make the island a more expensive destination. I think the recent increase in parking fees is a step in the right direction. I'd like to see hotels upgrade their accommodations, and their prices.

Joe Flores

YEAH MON ... well said ... totally agree !!!

Miceal O'Laochdha

One Sunday morning 36 years ago, circumstances caused me to walk into the bar of the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South in Manhattan and order an Absolut and orange juice. I was the only customer in the bar. The price was $18. The bartender explained they only charged that much to keep out the riff-raff. I was so grateful to know they were looking out for my interests.

Paula Flinn

Well, the mindset has certainly changed. We were raised with the idea that a family of limited means could come to Galveston to the beach to fish and swim and have a good time. The Gulf of Mexico belongs to everyone. But now we are getting greedy, and demanding everyone pay more for the pleasure of swimming here, at least until the next tropical storm or hurricane hits here or nearby. Then, where will your rich tourists go?

Steve Fouga

Paula, I understand your sentiment, but IMO you have nothing to fear. Though the mindset is changing, there are still plenty of families of limited means on the beaches. Nothing the city or park board does will stop them from coming. They will continue to come, and spend essentially nothing in Galveston, as long as there is a beach here.

Matthew Dan

It's a good idea to end the old mindset of only advertising the beach. Promoting art culture and hotel stays is a better for Galvestonians. The weekends in Galveston are busier than I've ever seen and the city needs to get a handle on it. I think everyone is sick and tired of the roads being blocked every weekend for some event. I think it's time for a change on how Galveston is promoted and advertised.

Joe Flores

Agree

Allen Flores

The art and history culture is a year-round target market that spends money and stays in hotels. Large festivals for day trippers have become an obsolete burden to residents and businesses for 10 years now. Eliminating Mardi Gras parades and family style celebrations is not what The Strand merchants desire. Nobody is calling for an end to Mardi Gras. But continuing the large paid-festivals (with fencing & out-of-town street vendors) that interfere with permanent businesses is a disturbing and outdated form of tourism. The city manager and council have immediate options available to them to change the image and course of Galveston in 2019. The Artwalk event, movies on The Strand, Historic home tours, family style Mardi Gras parades (pets & kids) are the type of events that The Strand merchants want to see continue, with free access for family crowds. The rethinking of tourism can put an end to the wasteful spending of public funds on oversized and unsafe street parties that infringe on the rights of business owners and residents. These numbers are a welcomed eye opener for leaders to implement a fresh and updated tourism vision.

Joe Flores

Mardi Gras is mostly welcomed by Strand merchants and the Strand used to be an Historic Shopping District that emphasized historic past and culture til we have a historic area with too many drinking establishments and focus on entertainment !! What we need is respect and focus on a very cool historic are that is losing its identity !!

Ron Shelby

Up from 2009? That’s a poor year to use as a comparison....right after the fall 2008 hurricane. Sounds like someone wanted to hype tourism growth. How about comparing to 2007 tourism numbers before all of the hurricane damage and rebuilding. Then let’s discuss.

Don Schlessinger

Stop using common sense Ron.

Galveston Park Board

In 2007, we were at 5.4 million visitors to the Island. After Ike, those numbers fell to 4.5 million and in 2012 we were able to bring that number back up to 5.7 million. We have also increased visitor spending from $580 million in 2007 to $872 million in 2018. We have the comparison data if you'd like comparison in any other areas. Thank you for your interest in tourism on the Island!

Joe Flores

Strand merchants and all of downtown area are basically doing fine and compliance of all ordinances will tremendously help !!!

Matthew Dan

I agree. Ignoring the ordinances during Mardi Gras and Lonestar Motorcycle event is not in the best interest of anyone but the event companies. Compliance of ordinances should be maintained at all times by the city. The noise from motorcycles should probably prevent the event from occurring near residential areas at all.

Joe Flores

TOTALLY AGREE ...

Connie Patterson

I shared this elsewhere the other day but it applies here too...
University of Texas and Rutgers University Economic Impact Study/ Texas Historical Commission shows “Tourists love historic districts and preserved or restored sites. More than 10 percent of Texas travel is heritage related, with $2.26 billion in annual visitor spending related to history-based tourism” THATS HUGE but personally I think the city could do more to foster Historic tourism. What we have on the Historic Strand is a National Treasure yet more and more it looks tired and dirty. The beautiful historic buildings obstructed by retail covering the exterior and the general area looking unkept.”Lets go to Galveston to buy a t-shirt and get a henna tattoo” said no one. The recent improvements to the lighting are great but it was a 4 year battle to get this done. On a recent trip to Gettysburg PA. we discovered a beautifully done historic Main Street, charming planters overflowing with flowers, bronze sculptures, nice benches and unique shopping. With a city the size of 7 Thousand and tourism at about 3 million annually they’re beating the pants off of Galveston with a city the size of 60 thousand and tourism at 7 million. Heck Bryan Texas Historic Main Street looks nicer than our own yet they have just a pinch of what we have to offer. Yes I know the city doesn’t own the buildings ( Neither does Gettysburg or Bryan) but they own the street and the sidewalks! Then there’s our cemeteries... some of the most significant figures in Texas history are buried here yet again nothing promoting that and the Cemeteries themselves show the decades of neglect and deferred maintenance as well as vandalism. All lost opportunities. We have more interesting history here than almost any other city in Texas and more than a visitor can see in one day...all I can say is Galveston Historical Foundation has been carrying the water for far too long.

Charlotte O'rourke

I’ve been hearing and reading discussion about the best type of tourist and which other types of tourists we can bring to Galveston, but haven’t heard any relevant discussion on the annual spending of $22 million in Hot Tax funds plus additional city/IDC funds for tourism.

If you spend that much public money on bringing tourists, with relatively few brick and mortar projects, you shouldn’t be surprised that you have an abundance of tourists and not much infrastructure.

Joe Flores

And the infrastructure we have is not being respected or complied with

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