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Retail Sales To Tourists
by David Stanowski
22 October 2007

When I was doing research on Galveston Retail Sales, I was shocked to find that Per Capita Retail Sales, in Galveston, have been less than Per Capita Retail Sales, on a national basis, since 1987! Why wouldn't a city of about 57,000 people, that gets 4.4 million tourists per year (source: GEDP), have Per Capita Retail Sales that far exceed the national average? Getting more than 70 times the local population, to visit The Island each year, even though it is for short periods of time, should generate some pretty impressive local Retail Sales!

The next step in the process of trying to put local Retail Sales into perspective was to compare Galveston to the State of Texas as a whole, and to other small tourist towns in the state.

Location 2006 Retail Sales 2006 Population Per Capita
Retail Sales
U.S. $4,365,000,000,000 300,000,000 $14,550
Texas $309,347,324,205 23,507,783 $13,159
Galveston $486,709,290 57,523 $8,461
Kemah $39,515,986 2,475 $15,966
South Padre $49,360,669 2,704 $18,255

This data shows that Galveston's Per Capita Retail Sales are far below those for the State of Texas, as well as the national figure! The Per Capita Retail Sales in both Kemah and South Padre Island are about twice as high as in Galveston! This is even more surprising since Kemah draws on an almost identical customer base!

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If Galveston could increase its Per Capita Retail Sales just to the average level for the State of Texas, it would add $270,235,867 to the local economy each year! Boosting Per Capita Retail Sales to that enjoyed by Kemah would add $431,702,928 each year! This would make a major impact on the Galveston economy!

Such an increase in local Retail Sales would add $5,404,717, or as much as $8,634,058 to the City's sales tax revenue, each year, depending on whether Galveston could equal the average
Per Capita Retail Sales for the State of Texas, or the City of Kemah, respectively!

I also wanted to compare Galveston to small tourist towns in Florida. The 2006 data that I received from the Florida Department of Revenue seemed to have some inconsistencies, and inaccuracies, due to the way it is filed, collected, and broken out by city.

Therefore, the most reliable data that I could find was from the last survey done by the Census Bureau, in 1997. Their data is collected in a consistent manner from state to state, and city to city, so there is no question as to its accuracy and reliability. Kemah and South Padre Island are not included in their data base, because they are too small.

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Pensacola and Panama City were selected because they are on the Northern Gulf Coast, and have the same climate as Galveston. They don't have the advantage of the Southern Florida climate during the Winter tourist season. The other three towns are in Southwest Florida.

The 2006 data from the Florida Department of Revenue is similar to the data shown below, so the relationships between all of these towns should be just as valid today as they were in 1997.

Location 1997 Per Capita
Retail Sales
U.S. $9,517
Texas $9,430
Galveston $6,016
Florida $10,297
Pensacola $16,748
Panama City $23,089
Bradenton $11,000
Sarasota $18,265
Fort Myers $37,133
Just like Kemah and South Padre Island, all of the Florida towns studied are doing much better than Galveston. Incredibly, Per Capita Retail Sales in Panama City and Fort Meyers are 4-6 times higher than in Galveston!

This data offers no answers as to the reasons for Galveston's anemic Retail Sales, but it does raise many questions:

1. How can Galveston's Per Capita Retail Sales be so much lower than the national average, and for the State of Texas, as a whole?

2. Why are the Per Capita Retail Sales in Kemah  almost twice as high as in Galveston; is it the amount of advertising that they do?

3. How many tourists go to Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn, the West End, the beaches, and The Seawall; but never make it to the downtown shopping district?

4. How much do the downtown parking meters contribute to this problem?

5. Does Galveston have the wrong kind of shops, and/or the wrong merchandise?

6. What does Florida know
about Retail Sales that Texas doesn't know ?

The bad news is that Per Capita Retail Sales in Galveston are incredibly weak. The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of room for improvement! It is time to solve this mystery!

Maybe someone needs to take a fact-finding field trip to Panama City, and/or Fort Myers!

For more information on the Galveston Economy:


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