Waco tourism industry hopeful for rebound after forced closures

Posted at 6:42 PM, May 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-16 19:47:02-04

WACO, Texas — Waco tourist attractions, like museums, continue to open up as part of the state's reopening plan.

On Friday, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame reopened for the first time in more than two months.

During March and April, a majority of museums and other tourist destinations were forced to close under local stay-at-home orders.

As a result, tourism in Waco plummeted.

In 2019, 585,928 visitors came to Waco during those two months, according to the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In the same time period in 2020, 125,113 visitors came, and a large majority of those came before businesses were forced to close due to the pandemic.

The lack of tourism has resulted in a large loss of money for the city.

In 2018, Waco earned more than $600 million.

With restaurants and other local businesses closed, that number is expected to drop dramatically.

"We're a nonprofit," Mary Beth Farrell, Director of Development and Communications for the Dr. Pepper Museum said. "We rely on the money we receive from visitors coming through the door and shopping at our gift shop and soda fountain to keep our doors open."

According to Farrell, the museum currently serves about 50 customers a day, well down from their average.

That number increases slightly on the weekends.

Workers say the majority of visitors come from inside the state of Texas and cities like Dallas and Austin.

"Our typical visitor is somebody from out of town who is coming through Waco. Lots of one time visitors, not as many repeat visitors," she said.

One of the biggest drivers of tourism, Magnolia Market, has yet to re-open its doors.

Museum operators say until that happens, they expect to see their numbers stay low.

Magnolia has not set a reopening date.

"We've been taking that time as a breather with our visitors here, but also as a time to prepare for when things downtown are more open like they normally are," Farrell said.

The Dr. Pepper Museum is taking the extra time to regularly sanitize the entire museum. Certain interactive exhibits are shut down at museums across Waco to reduce the number of common touch points for patrons.

In addition, the Dr. Pepper Museum has put down social distancing circles, spaced six feet apart.

The circles have fun Dr. Pepper facts written on them and encourage guests to maintain their distance from one another.

"They're historic buildings with small spaces," Farrell said. "We were prepared to implement even more strict sanitizing procedures than we have in the past."

Farrell says now is an opportune time for locals to come visit and support Waco museums, given the low turnout and lack of typical crowds.