AUSTIN, Texas (AP) The industry that once employed hundreds of people in Texas’ booming tourism industry is shrinking.
Tourism companies have been forced to slash payrolls and lay off workers, and the state’s tourism board is scrambling to determine how to help businesses that rely on low-income residents to offset the impact of higher demand for tourism.
But the tourism industry has also had some surprising success in the Lone Star State.
For instance, a new industry in Houston that relies on small-time tourists and backpackers is booming thanks to a surge in the number of foreign nationals who come to the state.
And as the state struggles to meet a statewide forecast of 1.2 million visitors by 2020, some Texas lawmakers are hoping to change that.
“I believe that we’re in the middle of an exciting time in tourism in Texas,” said Gov.
Greg Abbott, who announced in February that Texas will double its number of domestic tourists by 2021.
“We have a huge opportunity to create jobs and create jobs in this state.”
For the tourism sector, the economic benefits are obvious.
For years, Texans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to spend a day in a state that could only offer a fraction of the experiences they could get in New York, New Jersey, Miami and other places.
Now that the economic wind is blowing in the opposite direction, companies like the Texas Department of Tourism are looking for ways to offset this blow.
Texas tourism is booming, but the state has fewer job opportunities for its poorest residents, and a growing number of those residents are not tourists at all.
According to a recent study by the Houston-based consulting firm, Gartner, Texas had nearly 2 million fewer jobs for the bottom 50 percent of its population between 2010 and 2019, compared with the same time period in 2016.
A third of all jobs in the bottom half of the population in the U.S. were in hospitality, accounting for over one-third of all hospitality jobs.
Gartner says it expects that number to rise to 2.5 million jobs by 2021, or nearly a third of Texas’ entire workforce.
And there are signs that tourism could be a key to the growth of this sector.
Graphic: Gartcom’s State of Tourism reportState tourism revenue in Texas was $4.3 billion in 2019, a nearly 14 percent increase from $2.6 billion in 2018.
The industry employs more than 5.5 percent of the state workforce.
But that growth has come at a price.
While Texas’ tourism industry employs people who can easily afford to shop at Target, Starbucks, Costco and other major retailers, the state now has the lowest number of residents in the country who are able to afford to buy things like a car.
The average household income in Texas is $55,000, down from $61,000 in the early 2000s, according to the National Association of Realtors.
And even if you’re a tourist who does have a car, you’ll be more likely to spend your money on groceries or rent instead.
And if you live in a town with lots of other tourists, that can lead to lower spending on other activities.
Gartson says Texas is also lagging behind other states in its efforts to make sure people who work in tourism are prepared to stay home if they get sick.
The Texas Tourism Development Authority has created a statewide website that lets visitors know where they can get free flu shots and other healthcare.
But in some towns, such as Dallas, residents aren’t even able to access the site, which is set to be rolled out to all the state of Texas cities and towns.
“If you’re not going to make it here, it’s going to be harder to get the flu vaccine and you’re going to pay for it,” said Austin resident Stephanie Taylor.
She said she’s worried that if people aren’t prepared to pay to stay healthy, they’ll not come back.
Gottner says that, by 2020 and beyond, Texas will have a more robust workforce that will help it stay ahead of the global economic and tourism trends.
And it predicts the number one job-creation industry will grow to about 1.3 million workers.
The tourism board will hold a public meeting this week to discuss how to get ahead of any possible downturn.