The travel and tourism industry has long been vital to Texas’ economy, with an impact of $164 billion and supporting more than 1.2 million jobs in 2018 alone, according to data provided by Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.
With the state beginning to open up following stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, some eager travelers are wondering if it’s time to dust off their suitcases and hit the open road. But if you’re looking to travel in Texas in the coming months, what should you expect?
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First off, travelers should take it slow. Many attractions are staggering their openings or significantly limiting their capacity to ensure that the public can continue to social distance, and others are still trying to figure out a game plan for reopening.
Texas state parks, for example, reopened April 20 for day-use access but require visitors to reserve passes online in advance, allowing parks to control capacity and limit overcrowding. Overnight camping resumed May 18 for those with existing reservations; new camping reservations were not yet being taken as of press time. The National Park Service is handing reopenings on a park-by-park basis. Big Bend National Park is closed through May and is planning a phased reopening, with some features potentially being offered in early June.
Most Texas beaches, including beaches in Galveston, Corpus Christi, Port Aransas and South Padre Island, reopened May 1 following Abbott’s decision to let some of the state’s stay-at-home restrictions expire at the end of April. Most beaches are encouraging social distancing and limiting overnight camping, though some have still seen significant overcrowding.
Texas hotels, too, have begun courting visitors, with many offering significant deals and discounts. Popular Hill Country resorts are also accepting reservations, including the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa and the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa; La Cantera Resort & Spa will reopen June 3 and will limit overnight occupancy to 50 percent capacity.
According to the Port of Galveston, most cruise lines have voluntarily suspended service at least into June, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.
As far as Texas’ popular attractions, most are reopening on a case-by-case basis. The San Antonio River Walk is open for walking and jogging and some restaurants have reopened. The Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston Pleasure Pier are open, as are some of their shops and restaurants, but rides were closed as of press time. Major theme and water parks including Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Six Flags Over Texas, SeaWorld San Antonio, Space Center Houston, Schlitterbahn Galveston and Schlitterbahn New Braunfels remained closed as of press time.
Many small towns and their attractions have reopened. In Fredericksburg, for example, most hotels, shops and restaurants have reopened, including Wildseed Farms and the National Museum of the Pacific War.
"We do kind of think small-town-Texas tourism may be one of the first markets to come back, in that people can drive to it, it’s not going to necessarily be dense, and you don’t have to stay in a hotel," said Jon Hockenyos, president of Austin economic consulting firm TXP Inc. "People may think, ‘We were going to go to Europe. We can’t do that, but we can get in the car and drive a few hours and get a change of scenery.’"