Austin ‘critically important’ to Port Aransas recovery, tourism official says

It’s been 11 months since Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast, and Port Aransas tourism officials have a message to send: It’s time to come visit.

“We’re open for fun,” said Jeff Hentz, president and CEO of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, when he stopped by the Statesman on Wednesday. “We’re coming back. We’re obviously in the middle of what traditionally is our busiest season and I’m just amazed that so many people have come and looked around and said, ‘You know, I can tell you had some damage but you guys are making a remarkable comeback.’ There’s really nothing that’s not open that people are used to coming to Port A and doing with the exception of the golf course.”

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Violeta, 8, left, Jenny and Joe Stark walk along the water at Port Aransas Beach June 13. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hentz said the city’s lodging inventory is currently around 50 percent and is expected to be at more than 70 percent by the end of the summer.

In terms of restaurants and bars, 62 were open prior to Hurricane Harvey and 63 are open now. Two closed permanently after the hurricane, followed by three new ones that opened.

He called Austin “critically important” to Port Aransas tourism.

“For us to continue to support the growth in Port A, Austin has to be a central player in that,” Hentz said. “We’re really Austin’s beach. Austin is going to be even more critical in our marketing and outreach. Austin alone could probably keep our beach full almost year-round.”

Hentz urged tourists to consider fall and spring travel in addition to summer and to increase their length of stay.

“The businesses that everybody loves, they’re back, the owners are back. The characters and the quirkiness of Port A, that’s what’s back. Nothing left except the visitors, and that’s what we’re trying to bring back, because we can’t afford to lose a fall or even a summer when we’re open. We’ve just got to get the word out.”