Houston Matters

Coronavirus Leaves Summer Vacation And Travel Plans Up In The Air

Tourism experts from Houston and Galveston say they expect travelers to take more spur-of-the-moment day trips this summer.

Michael Woody of the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau says plentiful beaches there make it easy for visitors to maintain social distancing.

What are your summer vacation plans? Chances are they’re going to be a little bit different this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

These days, it’s hard to imagine a sector of the economy with more uncertainty than the tourism industry. While in past years one in four Americans traveled during the summer months, the uncertainty of this global crisis has put a lot of vacations on hold this year, and that might have an impact on tourism to Houston and Galveston.

In the audio above, Holly Clapham of Houston First and Michael Woody from the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau tell Houston Matters host Craig Cohen how the situation is affecting how people travel for leisure.

Just Visiting Houston

In past years, plenty of out-of-town visitors came to Greater Houston to see friends and relatives. Boutique hotels, high-end shopping experiences, or the Theater District draw in others from nearby towns and cities. As the hotel industry has taken a serious hit from the loss of revenue in past months, they’re adapting by utilizing deep cleaning protocols to attract guests in the post-pandemic world.

C. Baldwin Hotel Guest Room
In order to reduce COVID-19 spread and attract visitors, many hotels are increasing their deep cleaning efforts and removing small objects like pens.

“Looks like our indicators and what the product has developed over the years is going to match what people are looking for right now in terms of those short getaways that give them that feeling of vacation that they may be missing out on,” Clapham said.

The loss of major conventions and gatherings like Comicpalooza, which brought in roughly $20 million a year, has been a blow to the tourism economy. But also the inability to make long-term plans means many traditional vacations wont be happening, Clapham said.

“Timing. That’s what changes in this post-pandemic world is traditional vacations — both the time frame, the amount of days, and the attribution of somebody converts and makes that decision has completely changed,” she said.

Exploring Our Immediate Surroundings

Woody expects plenty of Houstonians to get out of the city and explore places within driving distance, such as Galveston Island. 

“We’re seeing a good number of people visiting the island,” he said. “A lot of research that we’ve been really exploring though this whole COVID-19 response is to talk about the desire for people to go to the beach.”

To maintain social distancing, many Houstonians are taking day trips in lieu of a week-long vacation.

Galveston is expecting a sudden surge of travelers as some pandemic restrictions are lifted. But many voiced concerns over a lack of social distancing and rowdy behavior from party goers during “Go Topless Jeep Weekend” on Bolivar Peninsula May 16-17. 

To reduce COVID-19 risk throughout Galveston, vehicle restrictions and signage have been put in place while additional law enforcement personnel has been hired to walk the beaches and tourist areas to remind people to practice social distancing and wear a mask.

Woody says the good news is there’s plenty of room for social distancing.

“The great thing is, with 32 miles of beach, we’re really able to get people to move around and not have big areas of concentration,” he said.

Traveling Safely

If you are going to travel — either nearby or farther away — Dr. Tazim Jamal, a professor in the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University, has recommendations. She says, like we’ve heard time and again throughout this public health crisis — maintaining a safe physical distance from others is key and to only visit places with strong disinfecting and sanitizing practices in place.

Closeup of Someone Washing Their Hands
Good hygiene, social distancing, and awareness of service industry sanitation practices can reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread while traveling.

If you’re travel includes a plane or a bus, Jamal recommends practicing good hygiene, wearing a mask, and being aware of other health practices and regulations in place to combat the virus by monitoring a reliable source of information, such as the World Health Organization.

‘Infodedemic is just as much as a problem as our current pandemic,” she said. “We need to look through this for responsibility on all service providers as to what practices they are engaging in. Do not be afraid to ask and really check the policies and practices.”

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