Have you heard the term “disaster tourism?” It certainly grabbed attention around the time of Hurricane Katrina. Now it’s even got its own Wikipedia page. It’s essentially checking out a disaster area as a matter of curiosity.
Now, the bed and breakfast community of Wimberley is feeling a little bit like the, ‘disaster du jour’ – with some gawkers rolling through town. But some business owners and residents want to clarify some things. Producer Andy Uhler spoke with them about the condition of their community following devastating floods.
When I walk into the lobby of the Wimberley Inn – a cute little hotel/motel close to the town square –– I didn’t really expect to see a group of people crowding the front desk to get keys to their rooms. After all, early estimates have hotel bookings in Wimberley down by about 30 percent since the flood.
Now these clamoring guests aren’t what you might call your typical bed and breakfast types. It’s about six guys wearing work boots and shirts with their names on them.
“We’re hosting the people who are coming in to service the area for now” says owner Denese Washam.
Washam has owned the place for about ten years with her husband, Dan. She says they were pretty lucky. The water never reached their property, so they’ve been trying to give industry-types, volunteers and those who were affected a place to stay.
“And we have had some people who were scheduled to be here who we’ve had to give rain checks to because of the news they’ve heard and how drastic it could be,” she says. “We try to assure people that we’re in good shape.”
But after all those pictures and reports about the devastation, it’s a bit of a tough sell.
Cathy Moreman is executive director of the Wimberley Chamber of Commerce. She says a hotel guest called her this week to check on the condition of the town. The guest told Moreman she called the Chamber because she wasn’t sure she could trust the hotel’s assurance that everything in town was, for the most part, okay.
“And it currently is. The damage that was done by the Memorial Day flood was along the riverbank. And most of that damage was done to residential areas. A few lodging venues were there,” Moreman says. “But the business district of Wimberley, the tourism center of Wimberley, was unaffected. Well…I take that back, there were four shops that were affected and one restaurant. The restaurant has since reopened.”
Talk to any business owner in town and they’re not shy about admitting it – Wimberley’s economy is based on tourism. And unlike the Gulf Coast – which received $230 million from BP to try to lure people back to the region after the oil spill five years ago – Wimberley knows that rebuilding their tourism and economic viability will be mostly up to them.
But is it too early to think about business? After all, there are some flood victims still missing. Russell Cox doesn’t think so. He’s president of the Wimberley Lions Club and owns a printing business in town. He says the club got some pressure to cancel a monthly event called Market Days because it would seem callous and because some roads haven’t re-opened. But Cox isn’t buying it.
“If you have to sit an extra fifteen or twenty minutes in traffic because of the situation that we’re in, I would consider that a pretty good day,” Cox says. “If you’re here to help our economy and be emotionally supportive for us – come see us. If you’re coming to gawk – stay home.”
Cox reminds me that one of the Lions Club members, Larry Thomas, was lost in the flood. Search and rescue efforts continue in the area. Traffic in and out of Wimberley is still a bit sluggish. But residents told me that they’re hearing that the Ranch Road 12 Bridge – one of the main thoroughfares in town – might be back to normal operation by the end of the day.