Lucrative Tourism Industry Emerges as New Texas Crude / Texas Now Third in Nation in Tourist Trade

Article excerpt

EDITOR'S NOTE - Long recognized for its vast oil and gas fields and fertile farm and ranch lands, Texas in recent years has discovered a new and lucrative natural resource: tourism. It's suddenly become a dynamite business, overtaking agriculture and ranking second only to energy and petrochemicals.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - From a balcony atop a high-rise luxury hotel, Larry Todd pointed to the sparkling waters below and exclaimed:""Just look at that!''

A fleet of sailboats rode the soft coastal breeze along the shoreline and a flock of seagulls chased a pleasure boat across the bay, squawking and begging popcorn from passengers.

Tourists poured in and out of the waterfront hotels and restaurants, and motorists streamed down Shoreline Boulevard toward the sandy beaches of Padre Island.

""I'd take that image of Corpus Christi Bay and show it to any city in America or the world,'' sighed Todd.

As the new executive director of the Texas Tourist Development Agency, he will use just such Texas images in the high stakes, fiercely competitive battle for national and international travel dollars.

Big, big dollars.

Todd said Texas reaped $13.5 billion in travel revenues last year, should do marginally better this year and could hit the $16 billion target in 1986 when it celebrates its 150th birthday.

That's a realistic projection because the last session of the state Legislature committed several million dollars in hotel-motel tax funds to the agency along with revenues from the sale of Sesquicentennial items.

Those monies will be used to advertise and promote both the Sesquicentennial and tourism in 1986.

""We're excited about getting the money to go out and sell Texas and compete with other big spenders like Florida, Alaska and New York ... and compete we will,'' Todd said.

The birthday bash was the buzz word in this sundrenched coastal city last week as Todd came to town to address the conventioning Discover Texas Association, a unique private-sector organization dedicated to tourism development.

The statewide, 500-member DTA serves as a dynamic and vital marketing link between the tourist agency and a sister group, the travel and information division of the State Department of Highways andPublic Transportation.

""We lend support to state agencies and do those things that they can't do,'' explained one member.

Along with the Texas Tourist Council, a private sector lobby group, the organizations have brought Texas from 23rd to third in tourism revenue, behind only California and Florida and a length or two ahead of New York.

Before the Texas Tourist Development Agency was chartered in 1963, Texas was suffering a steady decline in travel receipts. Ranking 23rd, its total travel receipts that year was less than $500 million.

The turnaround has been dramatic.

""It's a dream job now,'' said Todd, 45, who until recently served as director of programs for the Texas Department of Public Safey.

""My job is to show what an exciting place Texas is ... and to market what we've got.''

What ""we've got'' is lots, including variety, insists Jim Battersby of San Antonio, president of Discover Texas.

""There's the tropics of the Rio Grande Valley, and the Gulf Coast from South Padre to Port Arthur,'' he rhapsodized.

""There's East Texas with its pristine forests and lakes and West Texas with Big Bend, the Guadalupe and Davis Mountains. There's the dual cultures of San Antonio and El Paso and all the border cities.

""There's the urban sophistication of places like Dallas and Houston. There's history and Western culture and the mystique of the Old West.''

He somehow overlooked the rugged Texas Panhandle and the magnificent Hill Country, not to mention Billy Bob's, the Fort Worth honky tonk that's only slightly smaller than Delaware. …