Galveston is known across Texas as a beach destination, but in 2019, city tourism leaders are focusing on the island’s other gems.
Galveston’s attraction doesn’t lie just in the sand, said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of island tourism promoter the Galveston Park Board of Trustees
Galveston’s future tourism industry is diversified and offers a wide portfolio of heritage, nature and recreational activities, de Schaun said.
“I don’t think as a community we’ve focused on it,” de Schaun said of the island’s varied offerings. “The ideas are not new. It’s just that we haven’t really moved forward on implementing it.”
Even if people are just now focusing on enhancing Galveston’s wide breadth of options for visitors, those options have always been present, Galveston Historical Foundation Executive Director Dwayne Jones said.
“What I think has become more apparent is the beaches are only one aspect of Galveston,” Jones said. “Its history is much stronger.”
The foundation manages popular tourist draws such as the 1892 Bishop’s Palace and Texas Seaport Museum.
Emphasizing the history of Galveston is a great way to draw more visitors to the island, Jones said.
If people have only one thing to do, such as go to the beach, they’re less likely to stay longer or come again, he said.
“Galveston is what I would call authentic,” Jones said.
This trend isn’t unique to Galveston.
People who visit Texas are in general more interested in a wide variety of activities now, state Tourism Director Brad Smyth said.
“Tourists to Texas are participating in a wider variety of activities during their visit to the state,” Smyth said.
In 2017, parks amounted to about 7.3 percent of tourism activities in Texas, beaches another 6.2 percent and historic and heritage sites making up 6.8 percent, Smyth said.
About 68.5 million travelers came to Texas in 2017, up 5.8 percent from the previous year, he said.
“Texas continues to attract a higher proportion of domestic leisure travelers to the state,” Smyth said.
Drawing those tourists to the natural beauty of Galveston is the challenge set before the island, said Julie Ann Brown, executive director of Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council.
Beaches have always offered a unique natural destination for visitors, but tourism leaders are starting to place more emphasis on Galveston’s other treasures, Brown said.
Birding, hiking and kayaking are starting to draw more people to the island, she said.
“When people come here and they see the diversity of our birds, it sparks a natural curiosity,” Brown said.
Bringing more people who are interested in nature is also good for the island, she said.
“A lot of cities and towns are just now beginning to realize they want responsible tourists,” Brown said. “They want tourists who are going to come to visit Galveston and they’re going to respect Galveston.”
Having this diverse portfolio of tourist activities encourages people to stay longer, but luring people here specifically for those sectors might require some investment in additional infrastructure, de Schaun said.
Galveston needs bike trails that could attract people from Houston, bird blinds to draw nature enthusiasts and signs to point people to historic sites, de Schaun said.
“We would really like to see Galveston carve out its area as a recreational destination,” de Schaun said. “What is going to be Galveston’s competitive advantage? It’s got to be that feel of being a different place than you are when you’re in the major cities.”
It’s time for Galveston to start emphasizing these other draws, said Candace Jones, director of education at The Bryan Museum.
She’s always looking for new and innovative ways to draw people to the museum and help visitors interact with Galveston’s history, she said.
Many coastal towns have only the beach to offer visitors, she said.
“Galveston is so unique in terms of this rich history,” she said. “That is something we need to really push a little more in terms of how important it is. A lot of people just don’t realize that.”