Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Galveston trying to upgrade tourism

AP 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.

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.

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.

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.
Galveston Island and Bay are truly an underdeveloped tourism asset for the Houston metro. One that, with a little effort and some critical mass, has the potential to cross the "tourist attractiveness tipping point" and start substantially drawing from beyond Texas.

Update: Kuff weighs in.


At 10:22 PM, December 19, 2006, Blogger Kevin Whited said...

Assuming Metro offered express bus service from the airports to the new intermodal terminal north of downtown

Good luck getting that past Yellow Cab and their supporters on Council!

At 8:31 AM, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't they just clean the beaches like they do in San Diego and other beach cities on a daily basis? My sister lives in SD and she tells me that the beaches are so clean because they clean them everyday. It probably doesn't cost too much to have some dedicated equipment on the beach with a few minimum wage people on the payroll. I live in DC metro (Northern VA for now – moving to H-town soon) and I visited Galveston once approximately 7 years ago. Galveston was not my first choice. I wanted to go to Florida or South Carolina but I ended up going to Galveston because my friend lived in Dallas. So we drove down I-45 via Houston. My experience from those 4 days I spent on the island was okay overall. I do remember that the beach was dirty. I did not enjoy that part. But I did enjoy the hotel (Hotel Galvez or something). It was nice and the service was excellent. I also enjoyed the shops and the architecture/history. Would I visit Galveston again? Probably not. But since I am going to become a Houstonian soon, it is the best option to take the family for a weekend get-a-way. I would probably go down more often if the beaches were cleaner though.
I do agree with you on the commuter rail. I think it will help a lot.

At 8:49 AM, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

USA Today ran this Associated Press story last week in their travel section. I would go to Galveston more often if there were a train or bus service from Houston. The experience of driving the Gulf Freeway is too negative to overcome, most of the time. Several years ago, while visiting London, I rode a train to Brighton. It was a summer day, a Sunday, and the train was packed. I remember droves of people leaving the station in Brighton to walk to the beach. Would that happen here? What about bad weather days and winter weekends, not to mention winter weekdays. I'd use it, but how many people are there like me? Galveston missed the boat with the re-construction of the Causeway as just another highway department bridge. Where were the big thinkers that might have fought for a bridge that would have been an attraction in itself? What about greening up the Seawall? It's a concrete strip, for crying out loud. Boring and ugly. Same for Seawall Blvd...bland and ugly.

At 1:47 PM, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have lived in Galveston for 7 years, before that I lived in Florida. Galveston is a diamond in the rough that will never shine. The politics, politicians, and "important people" on the island will never let it happen. Some of the people in power down here would rather see parts of Galveston languish than have a "rival" make it nice. Old school grudges never die down here. Too many people will just take their ball and go home if they can't be the star.
Seawall is a shame. It looks like an old army post, everything is drab and tan. Where is the neon? Where is the arcade? Where is family fun? The only thing resembling anything "beachy" is the Rain Forest Cafe (although grossly over priced). No one wanted it here because the volcano goes off once an hour (Oh the humanity!)
Most of the seawall is made up of roach motels that are frequented by hookers and drug addicts. But we aren't going to close them down because the city is too busy giving out parking tickets to tourists that are unlucky enough to make it down here! The middle class guy from Houston will pay the lousy $30 and be on his way, the city makes money. On the other hand, the prostitute that is busted in the roach motel will not pay any fine. She will ride it out in jail for ten days or so, the city doesn't make any money off of that. So where do you think the city will enforce the laws. Don't for a second think that the city is going to go after the owner of the roach motel, he puts too much money into the pocket of the clowns running for city counsel.
Another big obsticle for Galveston to be a beach town like those in Florida is the layout of the city. You have neighborhoods that butt up against seawall. There is no "buffer zone" between comercial and residential zones. There is only a small skinny space to build anything on Seawall. You have to build up, not out. But you can't because the people on the next block do not want their view blocked, and you have to get a special permit from the city. Wonder how many palms have to be greased for that?!
The biggest problem with Galveston is that IT IS DIRTY! Broadway, the main entrance into town, is lined with ugly old buildings and transmission repair shops. The only building on Broadway that isn't that bad to look at, is the Eckert drug store. It was almost not given a building permit because people were afraid it would be an "eyesore". I guess the crack dealers hanging out at the security gate enclosed quicky-mart is considered beautification. North of Broadway is a collection of projects and bad neighborhoods that are completely unsafe. From the new court house to 25th street, the north side of Broadway is a no mans land that 75% of Galveston residence wouldn't travel in if you paid them!!
I am afraid the only thing that will turn Galveston into a tourist destination is a catagory 5 hurricane that destroys everything and we have to start over. Demographics, politics, and the lack of foresight will keep Galveston a seedy ol' beach town instead of the "Key West" type town it can be. And no amount of mass transit will change it, unless that mass transit is for people leaving because of a cat 5 hurricane.

At 3:39 PM, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the pirates idea.

Let's face it, Galveston has the advantages mentioned. So why not take some risks? Very few current visitors are going to stop coming to Galveston if it bombs, because they have that 75% base of Houstonians.

Frankly, I like having a relatively traffic-free drive to Galveston. It's totally a reason to live in Houston for me.

At 4:28 PM, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add that bus service to Galveston is currently available from 4 locations in Houston via Greyhound. Obviously, the idea that many people just will not ride a bus, but will ride a train is a factor here. Nonetheless, the service is there already. I took that round trip a bunch of times when I was in Middle and High School. Here's the schedule, which I think is the same 7 days a week:

Houston to Galveston
7:30 am - 8:35 am
5:30 pm - 6:45 pm

Galveston to Houston
8:40 am - 9:45 am
6:50 pm - 7:59 pm

$18 each way

Maybe part of what Galveston boosters should do is to streamline that trip for tourists. Have a shuttle service that picks up at the Greyhound station in Galveston and stops at the Strand, the Seawall, the hotels, etc. Some day, you could ride light rail from the Galleria to the downtown bus station, take the bus to Galveston, take the shuttle to the seawall and walk down the beach.

The mall and the beach. What else do you need?

At 4:38 PM, December 20, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Great idea. Outrageous price.

At 8:11 PM, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first Brian may have stooped to some hyperbole, but the essence of what he said is right on. We joke about city "x" being The People's Republic of "x", but in Galveston's case this would be offensive to China. In the last 20 years they have run off a Tetley Tea plant, almost all container traffic, BP's planned LNG plant, and American National Insurance has one foot out the door.
The longer you are there the more you see just how deplorable the city is. I used to wonder why they didn't tear down some of those old abandoned houses, until I started to figure out that just because a building is half boarded up, holes in the roof, missing windows, and overgrown doesn't mean that a woman with 4 or 5 children doesn't live there. What's even more frightening than the the city itself is that long time residents see nothing wrong with the city. Above all they don't want the city to change.
You might wonder why the city can't clean itself up. The problem is that they have no money. So many people are on the dole, so many public projects drain money from the city that it has nothing left to perform basic maintenance. Money would be better spent on Matagorda Bay.

At 1:48 PM, June 20, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm all for a train that runs from Galveston to Houston, its probably the best idea I've heard in a long time. $18 to and $18 from Galveston on a bus is completely unreasonable. I mise well drive & split the cost with my buddies. A train system would make mass transit to and from the island very reasonable all while freeing up the roadways. Going the opposite direction a fast train could & would cut commute time in half.. Imagine never having to wait in traffic again!

+10 to the Galveston - Downtown Houston Train Transit system..
where do i sign up?

At 12:23 PM, May 01, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian - your post was right on... I agree 100%, that is why I left Galveston


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