AUSTIN – Corpus Christi tourism leaders on Wednesday arrived at the state Capitol prepared, right down to their shoes.
Walking the halls of the 1 million-square-foot Capitol complex is a punishing feat, particularly on the feet of the cadre of local tourism officials who visited several Coastal Bend lawmakers, lobbying as one voice with about 800 other tourism officials from across the state who visited lawmakers of their own.
“The perception is that travel and tourism is all fun, all the time,” said Michelle Horine, vice president of leisure and nature travel for the Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But it is all-important to the Texas economy.”
Horine was one of a group of nine who slogged their way from office to office in the Capitol, reminding lawmakers of the importance of Texas’ $50 billion tourism industry.
The group dropped in on a list of lawmakers from South Texas — Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and state Reps. Abel Herrero, J.M. Lozano, Sergio Munoz and Todd Hunter — whose offices are nowhere near one another.
“We came prepared — nothing but wedges and soft soles,” Horine joked.
At play this legislative session is the importance of the month of August to local tourism, said Michael Womack, executive director of the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center in Corpus Christi and chairman-elect of the Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau board.
A bill has been offered by a Republican from Dallas that would, depending on one’s perspective, make summer shorter or the school year longer.
If passed, the bill would move the first day of school ahead by one week, to Aug. 21.
The bill is intended to align high school start dates with higher education start dates to allow high school students taking college courses to start both simultaneously.
It is the unintended consequence that tourism officials are trying to avoid.
“That one week means between $5 million and $7 million, per day, to the state in tourism-related taxes,” Womack said.
Hotelier Rick Patel, of Corpus Christi, approached the task of lawmakers or their chiefs of staff as a privilege.
“To be able to meet face to face with policymakers is so unique to the United States,” Patel said.
Patel said an earlier school year would have a substantial impact on his bottom line. He owns the Radisson Hotel Corpus Christi Beach and the Holiday Inn on North Padre Island, near the future site of a Schlitterbahn water park that is set to break ground Friday.
Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, on Tuesday reminded leaders that Texas’ travel business drives a significant portion of the economy.
“Tourism drives economic growth through virtually every sector of the economy,” Hunter said Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before delivering the keynote speech.
Hunter this session heads the joint Legislative Tourism Caucus, a bipartisan group dedicated to pushing tourism and travel-related legislation.
Data from the Texas Travel and Tourism Industry Association shows tourism in Corpus Christi drove more than $780 million in direct spending and supported more than 8,000 jobs in 2011.