Economic activity projected to rise this year

Tourism sector to rebound, says Houston and District Chamber of Commerce manager

A projected lifting of pandemic restrictions should boost visitor numbers in Houston and area. (File photo)

A projected lifting of pandemic restrictions should boost visitor numbers in Houston and area. (File photo)

Tourism should continue to bounce back this year from last year as the economy shows signs of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, says the manager of the Houston and District Chamber of Commerce.

Maureen Czirfusz, who is also the District of Houston’s economic development officer, says increasing signs of an anticipated easing of restrictions should result in more travellers visiting the area.

“With restrictions being lifted, we should see an increase in tourists who stop at the visitor centre in 2022,” she said of the centre located at Steelhead Park.

Although far too early to provide estimates, Czirfusz noted that visitors in the pre-Covid years hovered in the 10,000 and up range.

In 2019, for example, there were 5,110 parties making up 9,490 visitors while in 2018, there were 5,746 parties making up 11,306 visitors.

Bus tour stops numbered 35 in 2018 and 30 in 2019.

That’s compared to 2,632 parties making up 3,658 visitors in 2021 and just 1,790 parties making up 2,543 vistors in 2020, the first year in which the pandemic took hold. There were no buses in 2020 and just one in 2021.

In her dual role, Czirfusz has an all around perspective of economic activity in Houston and in the area as evidenced by her recent presentation to the District of Houston council.

It laid out key economic factors in addition to her economic development budget request for 2022.

One strong local feature remains the gift certificate program in which people buy gift certificates from participating merchants.

There were 24 participating merchants last year and sales of $98,292,68.

That’s the highest dollar figure since the chamber took over the program in 2010 save for one year, 2017, when the sales figure reached $102,970. And that was because the District of Houston injected $8,000 for a specific shop local campaign.

“It’s just such a great program,” said Czirfusz of the certificates which are intended to encourage people to support local enterprises.

In 2010, the year the chamber took over the program from a local merchants association, the dollar value of certificates sold was $15,000. It doubled the year after.

Specific to the 2021 Christmas shopping season, a one-month campaign beginning Nov. 15 and ending Dec. 25 in which 21 merchants participated and featuring two prize draws a week, 1029 entries were collected carrying a total of $66,132.86 in receipts.

Czirfusz also reported on one initiative on the part of the District of Houston and the chamber — a subsidy program encouraging businesses to spruce up the outside look of their buildings.

The District will provide a maximum reimbursement grant of 50 per cent of work done to a maximum of $5,000. A minimum $1,000 must be spent.

One business took advantage last year and that was Emberson Plumbing and Heating on 10th St.

Czirfusz said it was still a bit too early to gauge interest and follow through for this year.

“Once we get through February and into March, that’s when people start planning,” she said.

In terms of budgets for 2022, the tourism budget is projected at $101,137.45 with the District of Houston’s portion to be $74,888.45. That’s an overall increase of $3,968.42 with the District’s portion of that being $1,467.42.

The economic development function’s budget is projected at $82,526.03 with $50,000 coming from a grant from the Northern Development Initiative Trust and $32,526.03 from the District as a fee for service contract with the chamber.

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