Galveston businesses struggle to keep up with crowds amid labor shortage

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As summer comes to an end, Galveston tourism leaders say leisure is back to pre-pandemic numbers. But the challenge is finding workers to meet the demand.

The pandemic hasn't made it easy for restaurant owners, but the bounce back on Galveston Island is real.

"It was the best summer we ever had," said The Spot owner Dennis Byrd. "It far exceeded 2020, which we fell on record. [It] was the best summer because of all the tremendous pent-up demand."

No restaurant capacities, vaccines, and cruising brought more visitors to the island. The only issue was trying to serve them. The Spot was short of 75 staff members this summer.

"We've yet to bring back bands," Byrd explained. "We haven't brought back UFC events. We are self-imposing capacity restrictions."

The Spot wasn't alone. At Mario's Ristorante, demand also returned.

"It was very crazy," Mario's Ristorante manager Marisa Rojas explained. "Customers came back full force."

As customers came back, the thing that didn't return was the employees.

"There are nights where we only had two servers. When on an average night, I had five to six," Rojas recalled. "On the weekends, I usually have nine and I was only having four."

The restaurant had to alter delivery, close the party room, and remove reservations.

"I went home and I cried because it was so stressful," Rojas recalled. "It wasn't very fun."

If you want to know how busy it was, Galveston tourism leaders point to the average daily hotel rate. Last summer, the rate was $150. This summer, it was $200. It's a rate that was higher than other places like South Padre Island, which made about $185 a night. In Corpus Christi, the rate was nearly $125.

"Average daily rate is in the highest on the coast here in Galveston," Galveston Island chief tourism officer Michael Woody explained. "What that means is, we have people really valuing the experience here."

It's an experience the city is going to get more of, especially later this year when the Lone Star Rally and Dickens on the Strand take place. In February, it's the return of Mardi Gras.

"They are still a go," Woody said. "We're looking forward to bringing those large-scale events back. Big outdoor events."

These events are something of a green light, which is what owners said they need. After crashing in 2020, owners said they need events to keep 2021's momentum going.

"If festivals are canceled, it could be devastating," Byrd said. "If you look at February of this year, Mardi Gras was canceled, our revenue at our restaurant was down 50%."

The challenge now is finding the staff to keep the bounce back going.

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