SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – Tourism on South Padre Island is rebounding well following COVID-19 but how people take their vacation is changing. 

Vacation homes are in greater demand because they allow families to maintain the “bubble” they were in during the pandemic.

This is the view of Ed Caum, executive director of SPI’s convention and visitors bureau, and Tom Goodman, a real estate broker on SPI. Both gave their analysis of the current tourism boom in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian

“Some of the biggest increases we have seen in the collection of hotel tax is within the vacation rental business. That is happening not just exclusively here, it is happening in beach destinations and national parks,” Caum said.

“We are seeking a change. People who had not been exposed to vacation rentals, over the period of Covid, if they had not tried it before they are trying it now and they are liking it. We are seeing multi-generational families coming together.”

Goodman said there was and is pent up demand for vacations, following the pandemic. However, he said the type of holidays people are taking is changing. 

“What is more interesting in my mind, rather than just say we have this huge increase in numbers, is to delve into why, what is it that is changing about the traveling public. In my opinion, what we have seen with the pandemic is about a five-year leap ahead of where we were in the travel industry out here on South Padre Island, much of attributed to vacation rentals,” Goodman said. 

Goodman said the number of visitors SPI had in March of this year was better than the numbers for 2019, 2018 and 2017.

“Yet, interestingly enough, we did not have an increase in bridge crossings. What happened? Vacation rentals, we were seeing a much higher average daily rate. People are coming in spending more money, on the island for a family, staying in vacation rentals.”

Goodman continued: “People have been attracted to vacation rentals because it has been an escape from the crowded hotels. They can distance themselves in vacation rentals.”

Caum agreed. He said families were encouraged to stay in their “family bubble” during the pandemic and that mindset has continued.

“When the encouragement came up for you to travel in your family bubble I think that really helped people to stay in their bubble. They are in their family bubble for their road trip, then they park and they are in the bubble and they can cook for themselves or order delivery or takeout,” Caum said.

“Before you were riding elevators, you were passing people in hallways or lobbies. I think it exposed a whole new sector of people to enjoy the vacation rental and that style of traveling more so than the hotel stay of old.”

Goodman said his business was up four percent last year. “This year we are blowing it out of the water,” he stated. “Are we seeing this as simply a pent up demand and that we are going to see that demand go away or are we looking at a trend? My opinion is we are seeing a trend.”

Caum crunched the numbers for the Rio Grande Guardian to show how business was booming.

“The average occupancy for U.S. hotels in May 2021 was 59.3 percent. Here on South Padre it was 72.5 percent. The average daily rate in the U.S. for May was $117.69. On the island it was $141.32. So, you can see we are above the national average.”

Caum said those in the vacation rentals business like to look at revenue per available room. He said the average in the United States is $69.81. On SPI it is $102. “They are making more money here flipping rooms here on the island than the industry standard, U.S. wide,” Caum said.

Goodman pointed out that, during the last fiscal year, vacation rentals represented 57 percent of hotel occupancy tax collections. “We are a larger part of the income than the hotels,” he explained.

Caum ran through some of the sales tax revenue numbers for SPI.

“In May of this year we collected $1,258,000. That is up over the 2020 amount of $863,922. In 2019 it was $796,000. In 2018 it was $782,000. “It shows that the island is hopping.”

Asked what the reaction has been among SPI leaders and those in the tourism industry, Caum said: “There is a tremendous buzz. But there are challenges.” Among the big challenges, he said, are manpower and transportation. 

A news release issued by the CVB said reservations continue to be higher in most of SPI’s hotels and vacation rentals.

“We welcome visitors to our island and ask for their patience and caution as they may experience some traffic,” Caum said, in the news release. “We recommend visiting the island Monday through Thursday as more hotel rooms and vacation rentals are available and price points tend to be lower.”

Asked if he had any wrap-up remarks, Caum told the Rio Grande Guardian

“If you are coming to the island we want to provide great customer service. We are really busy so be patient. It may take a little longer to get into your favorite restaurant. The lines are a little bit longer than in the past but do know that as far as safety is concerned, we have had a fantastic summer. Safety is always important to us and the safety of our visitors is. So, if we all can be just a little more patient, slow down a little bit more, there is plenty of sun and surf and sand for everyone.”

From the SPI CVB news release:

Teresa Rodriguez, senior marketing and communications manager for South Padre Island said SPI offers “34 miles of pristine beaches, a wide variety of restaurants, amazing outdoor activities, great accommodations, and is the only tropical island in the State of Texas.”

For more information, Rodriguez can be contacted at (956)761-8199 or email: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Ed Caum and Tom Goodman on a Zoom video with the Rio Grande Guardian.

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