Corpus Christi, we have a tourism problem and we only pretend that we know how to fix it

Matt Pierce Briscoe

You can’t give the reality that Texas is open for business—new and old. Business insiders are now proclaiming San Antonio to be the “Chicago of Texas,” culturally rich San Antonio. Publications such as Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur Magazine, have called the city “America’s next boom town”and they have noted how the city is attracting new grads, entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes looking for an ideal business environment, enviable environment and high quality of life. That poses a dilemma for places like Corpus Christi. 

San Antonio is home to companies like GM Financial, H.E.B., Frost Bank, The Hartford, Rackspace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Toyota, USAA, Wells Fargo, Caterpillar and Tyson are just a few. Their economy is supported by solid healthcare partnerships, vast education and military spending, the city’s economy has remained robust, even during nationwide economic downturns. 

The problem for places like Corpus Christi is that we are sitting on our laurels pretending that we have it made when all we are really doing is fooling ourselves.

People want to live in places like San Antonio and they also want to spend money around it. If Sam Antonio is the “Chicago of the South,” then Corpus Christi ought to be its Milwaukee. 

“We do not think of Chicago as our competitor,” said Damon Vorheez, a shop owner in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. “We exist as that getaway from the hustle and bustle of Chicago and every single day people make this trip.” 

The trip from Chicago to Stevens Point is about 250 miles and Vorheez says that it wasn’t until Stevens Point realized that they had to give “Chicago people” a reason to visit that they saw their real potential.

An empty bar on a nearly empty street in downtown Corpus Christi on a Friday night (Matt Pierce/Getty Images)

“We sit in a Sportsman’s paradise and we knew it,”  Vorheez said. “We had the natural attraction for people to want to visit, but we had little else.” 

Like Stevens Point, Corpus Christi has the natural attraction  with our open beaches, fishing and outdoors attractions—but we offer little more in their eyes. 

“You can’t survive off of fishing, hunting, dreams and a few craft brewers,” Vorheez laughs. “You’ve got to be able to offer much more.” 

Ben and Natalie Cummings decides to move to San Antonio in 2009 when Ben was offered a job in the financial sector. They have 3 children and they love getting away for the weekend. The Cummings family have made the trip to Corpus Christi. 

“We love it,” Natalie says as she points out pictures of the family spending time at Port Aransas. “We love it when we hit the causeway and find our way out to your island.” 

Like most, they think Corpus Christi is just a stop off point on the way to Port Aransas. They aren’t exactly wrong. 

“We rarely spend time in Corpus Christi itself,” says Ben. “We usually jump off at H-E-B and get groceries and then head on out.” 

Their money isn’t spent in our restaurants or hotels. They don’t fill-up their cars in our city. They also don’t spend a lot of time and money at our attractions. They pass through, spend some time at the beach and then move on. As for the Cummings family they say that they will be back—but not anytime soon. 

“Oh we have a book of things to do,” Natalie says. “Borene, Fredericksburg, Austin, Marble Falls, and Houston. There is just so much to do. I think Corpus Christi is somewhere on our list.” 

There lies the problem. Corpus Christi is always on the list—but not always very high up. 

“Ok, I go to the Lexington, the aquarium, and hit a few hotspots,” says Austin resident Ken Rivas. “That takes me a couple of days. Big deal.” 

Rivas says Corpus is great, but to use his words “its not all that.”

Downtown Corpus Christi skyline on a cloudy day (Matt Pierce/Getty Images)

Corpus Christi sees itself as a tourism city, but what we aren’t doing is enough to keep daytrippers coming back over and over again. We have a very long way to go. 

People who live here see what we have, those that visit here just say “oh it’s cute” and they take their tourism dollars to the Hill Country our Central Texas. The problem isn’t that we don’t have things to do—is that we aren’t communicating it properly and we aren’t competing with Fredericksburg, lKerrville and even Castroville. 

“We love it there,” Natalie smiles. “I just don’t think we love it enough to go back once a month or so.” 

That’s the problem.