Galveston trying to upgrade tourismAP has a story about Galveston's attempt to upgrade it's tourism image based on the recent consultant's report (thanks to Chris for the link). The article is quite vocal about Galveston's downsides, especially the dirty water and sand. Some excerpts:
One of the best-known but most disparaged beach towns in Texas is trying to figure out how to promote itself to outsiders while acknowledging that the town and its beaches are dirty and largely unappealing.Despite the negative spin of the article, I was talking with a friend (Alan) recently about our prospects for tourism targeted between Galveston and Kemah. Galveston has real potential to be like Charleston, Savannah, or Key West. I think the beaches aren't much of a factor for any of those towns. It's about having a historic walking experience in an interesting town, which Galveston can provide.
Residents of Galveston as well as tourists repeatedly cited "dirty beaches" and the town's "unclean feel" during recent interviews conducted by a marketing firm hired to help boost Galveston's image.
The report, commissioned by Galveston's top tourism promoters, found that while the beach is well-known, "neither visitors or residents think highly of it. Flaunt the uniqueness of your island. Your beaches and island are not dirty -- they are colored with stories, history and culture." (had to smile at that spin)
Every summer, droves of Houstonians and other Texans stomp along Galveston's brownish-gray sand to take a summer dip in the tepid, murky Gulf waters that play host to jellyfish and strings of seaweed. Malibu it isn't, they joke, but at least it's close. But selling the town's charms to tourists with other postcard-like options might be a tough sell.
The city gets 6 million visitors a year. North Star found that 72 percent of them come from Houston, just 40 miles up the interstate. But the study also found that the top 10 places visitors come from include two outside Texas -- Chicago and Lake Charles, Louisiana. (Chicago? Must be a sheer-size side effect of America's third largest metro visiting friends and family in the seventh largest metro, and they just happened to go visit the island. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure they'd fly to Florida.)
But some parts of the report stung a bit. Criticism of the island's cleanliness runs throughout the presentation, with comments about "not very pretty beaches," "remarkably seedy" neighborhoods and the town's "unpolished" reputation.
Promoters are eager to exploit the town's magnificent architecture and often tragic history to lure tourists, but they are far less keen about other North Star recommendations. ... Brown said that talking like pirates for a day was probably one of those recommendations where town officials would end up smiling and turning the page. Ditto the proposal to build a huge "pirate's sandbox" in Houston filled with Galveston sand, a pirate's ship and planks to walk.
"They keep mentioning pirates," Brown said. "I think they went a little overboard on the pirates."
One recommendation that city officials rejected immediately was to change the city's name. The proposal to rename it the "City of Galveston Island" provoked such hostility that Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas felt the need to reassure residents that no such change was imminent.
Alan also made an interesting pitch for Houston to Galveston commuter rail on existing freight tracks. Most readers know I'm not usually a fan of commuter rail for Houston, but he made an good case. In addition to Galveston, tourists would be able to ride the train and then catch a shuttle bus to visit Space Center Houston, Clear Lake, Kemah, and League City's quaint downtown shops. There's already a trolley to get around on the island. Not having to rent a car and navigate a strange town is a big plus for tourists. Assuming Metro offered express bus service from the airports to the new intermodal terminal north of downtown, tourists could truly get away with being carless. And, of course, the train could move plenty of Houstonians wanting to visit for a day or a weekend without fighting traffic on 45 (or if they want to send their non-driving teenagers). Finally, it might even attract some long-haul commuters during the week if it offered a comfortable ride with big seats and wireless Internet access.
Keys would be:
- Rerouting freight traffic affordably (or at least sharing the tracks with them). May be difficult if the Port of Galveston starts handling more freight, especially containers.
- Using the exisiting tracks and probably non-electric propulsion to keep the project affordable.
- Few stops to keep it fast with an a high net speed.
- Galveston County would need some sort of transit agency that could collaborate with Metro.
- Not sacrificing express bus service from southeast Harris County to non-downtown job centers. Yes, transfers would be possible downtown, but they would add so much time to TMC, Greenway, Uptown, or anywhere else as to make the commute completely unreasonable.
Update: Kuff weighs in.