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MONIQUE BATSON: Celebrate National Tourism Week by participating locally

Last night I bought tickets to a concert. It’s an artist my friend loves and I barely know, but at this point I’d practically pay y’all to sing live in a venue.

Music has always been a passion of mine, and concerts a pastime I love more than anything. But last year I watched as, one by one, the shows I had bought tickets for were refunded. Each time hurt a little more.

I remember March 2020, standing in a store and looking at people wearing masks and gloves spaced around the aisles to reach the cash register, feeling as if we’d never have a normal life again. And once establishments began to close, it was all but certain.

The spontaneous trips I’d take with my kids to places in Houston and Galveston were a thing of the past. We’d never visit another zoo or museum again.

But last night, I bought tickets to a concert.

Last weekend, I spent time at RiverFest.

Next week, I’ll get my second Moderna dose.

And while we’re still amid this pandemic, that feeling of dread I felt looking at the masks and gloved hands is slowly fading.

“People are becoming a lot more comfortable,” Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said during Tuesday’s Commissioner’s Court meeting after declaring May 2-8 National Travel and Tourism Week. “The number of new virus cases is down dramatically. Hospitalizations are down dramatically. Things are looking good. I’m happy to see those numbers and a rebound in tourism.”

Kathi Hughes, director of the Ben J. Rogers Regional Visitors Center, told commissioners that tourism numbers in the area are increasing by the day.

“People are traveling; they’re coming in,” she said. “Not just your mom and dad who, the kids are off to college, and they’re traveling across the U.S. and looking for things to do; but a lot of people within about 300 miles. And they’re coming in, staying in our hotels and RV parks, spending money and they’re staying longer.”

Hughes referenced the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, saying since reopening they’ve kept a steady number of visitors.

“Some of our museums have pretty much never stopped,” Hughes said.

Have you visited one lately?

I’m ashamed to say as a lifelong Southeast Texan, I was in my 30s before I realized how many quality museums and attractions we have in the area.

While working in Downtown Beaumont during Spring Break, I didn’t have childcare for my youngest two boys and brought them to the office. They dutifully sat at empty desks and watched Netflix without making a fuss. But to help ease the burden and stretch their legs, every day at lunch we walked to a different museum.

The Eddison Museum was a one-room wonder that I could have stayed in for hours. The Fire Museum was filled with fascinating artifacts. The Art Museum was gorgeous. The Energy Museum was mind-blowing.

And if you haven’t been to the aforementioned Museum of the Gulf Coast, which Port Arthur Newsmedia featured in a recent edition, you’re missing out on a true gem.

If anything, this pandemic may have opened our sleepy eyes to the beautiful things around us.

“There’s nothing to do in Southeast Texas,” people used to say.

I doubt many feel that way in more. Just take a look around. Visit the beaches and boardwalks again. Watch a community theatre show. Try a new restaurant. Pick up bird watching.

And if you see me, say “hi.” Because I’m ready to step foot outside the walls of my home and explore everything around me.

Monique Batson is Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.