Outdoors, contactless technology new trends for tourism


When the pandemic shut down the world 18 months ago, Gabriel and Marianna Fregoso decided to finally invest in something they’d only ever rented: an RV.

The Houston residents sat outside their RV untangling porch lights at the Jamaica Beach RV Park, 17200 FM 3005, on a sunny Friday in September.

“It was going to be hard to travel,” Gabriel Fregoso said. “We like to travel. Everything was closed. Texas is beautiful.”

Now, the family, with their daughter Francesca and dog Santos, travel once a month and enjoy visiting Galveston and the beach.

The pandemic threw the tourism and hospitality industries into temporary chaos. But some of the changes and adaptations meant to help people keep their distance helped the RV industry and added new services at hotels.

The contactless technology and moves toward self-guided and outdoor activities that became staples of pandemic tourism likely will have long-term effects and remain relevant long after normal travel resumes.

Since the initial lockdown ended in May, Galveston’s East End Lagoon and Dellanera RV Park have become increasingly popular, said Michael Woody, chief tourism officer for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.

The park board manages the parks and island beaches.

Outdoor activities are really growing in popularity, he said.

“We’re seeing that people are leaning into those types of experiences,” Woody said. “Motor home sales, or mobile home sales, really went through the roof during the pandemic.”

And now that people have invested in those big purchases, they’ll likely want to get several years of good use out of them, he said.

Jamaica Beach RV Park has been full more often in the last year, manager Aric Salois said.

It’s typical for holidays to book up a year out, he said.

“Now, with the summer, we’re seeing trends where the weekends will start filling in anywhere from eight months in advance,” Salois said. “You’ve got to book four months in advance for summer weekdays. You can’t even get in the Fourth of July.”

Even when tourists didn’t visit the outdoors, social distancing practiced during the pandemic meant a shift toward technology and contactless experiences.

The park board introduced more self-guided tours that visitors could access on their phones, Woody said.

“You can do it on your own and with whatever size group you want to be in,” Woody said.

New technology also has made a significant change in hotel operations, said Jeff Ossenkop, general manager of The Tremont Hotel, 2300 Mechanic St.

Within the past 18 months, the hotel set up a texting system so guests can ask questions, request a room be cleaned or other services through text, he said.

The hotel is working on taking that a step further next year by moving many services to guests’ phones, he said.

“You can use your phone to check in and never have to go to the desk,” Ossenkop said. “You can open the door on your phone.”

With guests looking for minimal contact, concierge services — such as requesting dinner spots and making car reservations — also have gone digital, Ossenkop said.

“They’ve installed this really cool digital touch screen in the lobby that acts as a digital concierge,” Ossenkop said.

A human concierge will come back, but the digital tools will stay, he said.

What’s also probably going to stay for a while is more people driving to Galveston, Woody said.

While air travel will return, many people in Texas have been reintroduced to Galveston, he said.

“There is so much to do here,” Woody said.

And the fact Galveston is so close to major Texas cities makes it easy to market, he said.

“If it’s close, and you know you can get there pretty easily, you can decide on Friday after work, ‘let’s go,’” Woody said.

Article Courtesy of: https://www.galvnews.com/specialsections/article_cb118f3a-ae6c-52ac-ada7-6da2c700170b.html