Schlitterbahn Resort Waterpark, South Padre Island.

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – Business owners and managers on South Padre Island say they are thrilled to learn that SPI leads the Rio Grande Valley in sales tax revenue growth.

According to the Comptroller’s Office, sales tax revenues for SPI were up 31.1 percent in April, as compared to April 2016. The figure is somewhat skewed because Semana Santa was in April this year, whereas it was in March in 2016. Semana Santa draws a lot of visitors from Mexico to the Valley.

Year-to-date sales tax revenues for South Padre are up 11.7 percent, as compared to the year-to-date figures for 2016. That is the highest percentage increase in the Valley.

Jimmy Hawkinson

“When we look at sales tax revenues, the standout for the region has been South Padre Island. After a very strong March the Island saw a very strong April,” said Matt Ruszczak, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Council.

Jimmy Hawkinson, general manager for Schlitterbahn on South Padre Island, welcomed the uptick in economic activity.
“It has been a better summer. The weather has cooperated with us. It does not seem like it has been crazy busy, it has just been steady busy. Our attendance is up a little on last year,” Hawkinson said.

Asked if the weather was the main reason for the increase in sales tax revenues, Hawkinson said yes, but that a rebound in the oil and gas industry has helped.

“The oil industry is a big contributor to us, being on the coast. That industry spends money. Those that work in the industry are spending money in their communities so the people there have more money to travel to the Island,” Hawkinson said.

South Padre Island Mayor Barry Patel, a hotel owner on SPI, has been vocal in his criticism of the Trump Administration putting out anti-Mexico statements. He has complained this has hurt business. Asked about this, Hawkinson said: “Visitors from Mexico have an impact on the Valley as a whole, not so much directly on the Island. On the Island, they tend to come in the last week of July and the first two weeks of August. But, they spend money in the Valley and that helps us.”

Hawkinson said he was speaking to a person in the car business from San Juan recently and this person was telling him how charter flights were now taking Monterrey shoppers directly from their city to San Antonio with no luggage limits. Hawkinson said that if popular, this could impact the Valley.

“What I have noticed is that when we take a hit, the Upper Valley tends to do well and when we do well, the Upper Valley takes a dip.”

Hawkinson is a member of the South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. He said the group has been honing its marketing message.

“We have been thinking methodically, trying to plan on our advertising, in a very strategic way. We need to let people know we are an island in Texas. We still believe that there are so many people that don’t really truly believe that there is this type of beach in Texas,” Hawkinson said.

“We have such a huge amount of people moving into Texas, we have got to inform all these people. We have been trying really hard to get a marketing campaign out there that really lets people know that South Padre is here, it is in Texas and it is an island. And that we are open for business.”

Sea Ranch Restaurant & Bar, South Padre Island.

Dave Friedman is owner of a number of waterfront restaurants on SPI and in Port Island, including Sea Ranch, Pier 19, Laguna Bob’s, Pirates Landing, and Marcello’s. Asked about the increase in sales tax revenues, Friedman said:

“Our business is up and most of the restaurants, I believe, are up because we are seeing a lot of people from the Upper Valley come down, either to the beach, or Schlitterbahn, or to come and watch the fireworks. All these things bring local business down here.

“The weather has been very nice and we have lots of attractions. We have fishing, we have boating, we have the beach, it is a very great place for a vacation. We have most everything for families. It could not be any nicer.”

That said, Friedman wishes more SPI visitors were coming from further afield.

“We are seeing lots of local people and less tourists that stay longer than a day or two. We are not seeing the tourists from Monterrey that we used to. We are seeing the visitors who have less than a two-hour drive. They do not spend as much as tourists that come from further away. A lot of them bring their own lunches, their own picnic baskets. I am not complaining, volume has been up. I think we just need a little more of the spending business,” Friedman said.

Friedman added that SPI CVB “does a good job marketing South Padre.”