Oil and water don’t mix
Fate threw Port Aransas merchants some real curve balls in recent months, prompting mixed reports on just how well business went this past summer.
Fears of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, bad weather, heavy influxes of sargassum seaweed and other factors hurt tourism to an extent, but many business owners still reported a good summer.
“Despite all the challenges we had this year, I think it’s overall been very successful,” said Ann Bracher Vaughan, executive director of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau.
While August figures weren’t in yet at press time, numbers collected so far from the summer showed that hotel-motel tax collections were up compared to the same period last year, according to tallies provided by city hall.
Collections in June fell from last year’s $466,578.10 to this year’s 415,070.03, according to the city’s finance department.
But July this year saw a big rebound. While $537,249.55 was collected in July last year, some $602,938.90 was raked in this past July.
Jim Triplett, managing director of CCMS Resorts, said he was pleasantly surprised to see CCMS do a better-thanaverage summer. He was surprised because rainy weather and high tides associated with Hurricane Alex hurt visitor traffic in late June and early July, including the critical July 4 weekend.
Alex struck the northern Mexico coast June 30, and it sent tides to the dunes here in Port Aransas, all but shutting down the beach for a few days.
Triplett said the bad weather hurt so much that he thought the summer might end up being a lost cause.
“But we found there was a strong rebound after the July 4 weekend for the balance of July and through the first half of August, which brings us back to a point that is pretty much where we expected to be this year,” Triplett said.
CCMS manages 10 resort properties and the Alister Square Inn. Eight of the resort properties are in Port Aransas, and the other two are just outside the Port Aransas city limits, in Corpus Christi.
Also seeing a good summer was Deb Wilson, owner of the A Mano shop.
“Business was great,” Wilson said. “I think everyone took a little hit because of the July 4 weekend. But we’ve been up at least somewhere between 10 and 15 percent.”
I.B. Magee Beach Park saw lots of visitors during the summer, according to Scott Cross, director of Nueces County Coastal Parks.
“We were completely full just about every weekend, with the exception of the July 4 weekend,” Cross said.
Cross didn’t have specific figures, but he said he was certain that I.B. Magee Beach Park did more business this summer than last. The nationwide recession has prompted many Texans to vacation closer to home, he said.
“We’re seeing a lot more people recreating in their own back yard. People from all over Texas come here,” Cross said. “It’s affordable and economical to come down and stay here in your RV.”
Pool traffic at Port Aransas Community Park didn’t see the same kind of boost this summer, however.
Last year, from Memorial Day through the last week of August, 9,229 visitors frolicked at the pool, according to figures provided by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. This year, from Memorial Day through the last week of August, only 7,624 people visited the facility.
The reason for the drop wasn’t immediately clear, although part of the explanation might lie in the fact that last year’s Memorial Day fell one week before this year’s holiday.
To Kelly Owens, owner of Deep Sea Headquarters, the summer seemed about average.
“Things were coming along well until the weather hit us,” Owens said, referring to Hurricane Alex. “And then it was like we couldn’t get the wheels back on.”
It wasn’t until mid-July before business started picking up again, Owens said.
Waterfront businesses also were hurt by publicity about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Owens said Deep Sea Headquarters fielded a lot of calls from would-be visitors asking if oil was hurting opportunities for offshore fishing trips out of Port Aransas.
Originating from off Louisiana, the oil didn’t reach the Port Aransas area, but many folks from outside this area didn’t know that.
“I think we were able to persuade the people we talked to that it was OK to come down,” Owens said. “But, for those who didn’t even bother to call, I don’t know.”
Fisherman’s Wharf took 30 to 40 calls a day from people worried about whether the oil would hurt fishing, according to Bobby Grumbles, co-owner of the business.
Business has been down at Fisherman’s Wharf, and not just because of the oil situation, Grumbles said. A generally down economy and stricter regulations on snapper catches also were responsible, he said.
“It’s been a combination of factors beyond our control,” Grumbles said.
Some merchants say the oil spill off Louisiana has pushed tourists to Port Aransas, in some cases.
“We’ve had customers say they came here to Port Aransas because they just didn’t want to go to Galveston, because they’re still rebuilding (from the Hurricane Ike strike in 2008), and they didn’t want to go to Florida because of the oil,” said Allison Harty, co-owner of Beach and Station Street Grill. “
Harty said her restaurant has had a good summer.