AUSTIN (KXAN) — Spring break is arriving just as Governor Greg Abbott is ending the state’s mask mandate and capacity limits, meaning the coming weeks will be the beginning of a critical run for many Central Texas businesses.
Even with SXSW being virtual for the second year in a row, tourism experts still expect that Austin will see more visitors for spring break.
“This week, next week, to the next few weeks, we’ll see a lift that we haven’t seen recently, which would be great, especially on the weekends,” said Visit Austin President and CEO Tom Noonan.
It’s expected to be a nice boost for the local economy. A spokesperson for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport says Sunday was one of the airport’s busiest travel days since the pandemic began, and an uptick in air traffic is expected over the next few weeks.
Noonan says the ending of state orders may also have an impact in the later weeks of the spring break period.
“I’m not sure the governor’s mandate will have much change from this week and next week, because if people were making travel plans, they probably already made those travel plans,” Noonan said. “But, maybe some last minute bookings, we’ll see an increase from that.”
Even though local bars, restaurants, hotels and shops need the financial boost, it’s a scary idea for some service industry workers who worry their workplaces will be packed with people ignoring guidelines.
“I know it’s going to happen. It’s ‘Pandora’s box’, really,” said Jessica Ramirez, who works in the hospitality industry locally.
Ramirez gathered with others in the service industry outside of the Texas Capitol Monday to protest the governor’s changes. They’re asking the governor not to allow businesses to return to 100% capacity until at least 70% of essential workers are vaccinated.
Bar employee Jeannette Gregor helped organize the protest, “Because now we’re the Mecca for people to go and hang out.”
“What’s the last year been for?” Gregor asked. “Why did we even bother canceling South by? You know, we’ve sacrificed so much, and overwhelmingly, that’s my community. That’s the events community. That’s the bar community. That’s the restaurant community. We’ve sacrificed so much. We can hang on for two more months.”
While many bars and restaurants will still choose to limit their own capacity and ask customers to wear masks, Ramirez hopes those traveling and enjoying Austin for spring break will abide by the guidelines.
“I really hope there’s that mutual respect across the bar, across the table, that it isn’t all willy-nilly spring break,” Ramirez said.
While some students are already on break, next week will be spring break for the University of Texas and most school districts in the Austin, Dallas and Houston areas.