DALLAS — Fatigue from COVID-19 and last month’s polar vortex are expected to drive millions of people to Texas beaches as spring break begins this week, according to businesses and local officials along the Gulf Coast.
“I think that the next 12 months are going to exceed any expectation that anyone has in terms of travel, leisure, hospitality, dining, drinking, standing, hotels, attractions. I think that the next 12 months are going to just be roaring back beyond where they were,” Dennis Byrd said on this week’s episode of Y’all-itics. Byrd is the owner of The Spot, a popular restaurant and bar along the Seawall in Galveston.
On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s face mask mandate officially ends, and the state is allowing businesses to return to 100% capacity. But private businesses can still require face masks and enforce health safety protocols.
Up and down the Texas coast, many businesses and local governments are still adhering to CDC guidelines.
In South Padre Island, the city will still require employees to wear masks and social distance. In addition, the convention and visitors’ bureau there said restaurants, hotels and many attractions are also keeping health guidelines from the federal government in place.
City Council in South Padre Island already suspended special event beach permits until April 15. That means outdoor concerts on the beach are not permitted. In addition, people cannot gather on the beach in groups larger than 10 and beach umbrellas must be spaced 15 feet apart with only two chairs.
Still, the popular spring break destination is expecting a huge crowd this month.
“We’re expecting a good number,” said Teresa Rodriguez of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. "Maybe it will reach to a million or more.”
As of March 1, many hotels on South Padre Island already had half of their rooms booked, she added. Most reservations are last minute, Rodriguez explained, as people check the weather forecast and for any new pandemic restrictions.
In Galveston, business owners like Byrd said they expect pent-up demand and an increase in vaccinations will fuel growth the rest of the year.
“I just think the next 12 months is going to surpass anyone's expectation and maybe well beyond that too,” he said on the podcast. “There's been some discussion that we may see a new roaring ‘20s. Last time we had a pandemic just before the 1920s, we saw things take off societally and financially, and all of these things, and it's sort of that same setup here where you've got people just sort of rearing to go.”
“It’s very hard to predict, but I think that people are ready to go out,” she explained. “People are still coming. They are coming for the weekends. Weekends are very busy here.”
If the U.S. border with Mexico fully reopens, Rodriguez said she expects a substantial increase in tourism as many visitors to South Padre Island are from Monterrey and surrounding cities in northeastern Mexico.
“I believe that COVID-19 has changed the landscape of the hospitality industry forever. There are going to be things that we learned over the last 12-month period that we're going to carry forward for the next two decades," Byrd said. "Maybe it isn't everything. Maybe there aren't partitions between tables forever, but there are just things that we learned along the way that I think our restaurants are going to continue to do for a very long time."
What remains uncertain is how spring break impacts the coronavirus. New cases are declining in Texas as vaccinations are increasing and the state comes off the winter holiday peak. But numbers overall still remain high and there’s still a long way to go to get to herd immunity, which health experts don't expect to see until sometime this summer.