Lake Travis's party boat industry, rocked by the pandemic last summer, is experiencing record-high demand. Local businesses are all hands on deck as the tourism industry swells to pre-pandemic levels, bringing in increased bookings and reducing the stress of the past 14 months.
Austin's Boat Tours is booked solid this Saturday. Each of its 10 double-decker barges, which come with a water slide and cost up to $300 an hour, will take out two groups of up to 20 passengers to popular party spots such as Devil's Cove. "Things are definitely coming back together for us," co-owner and captain Angel Edwards told Austonia.
Angel and Austin Edwards are the husband-and-wife team behind Austin's Boat Tours. (Angel Edwards)
This is a welcome change from last summer. Austin's Boat Tours lost nearly all of its out-of-town business, including the East Coast bachelor and bachelorette parties that make up much of its customer base. Of the nearly 180 reservations booked in January 2020, almost every single one was canceled and either refunded or credited toward a future visit. "We barely—barely—made it through the pandemic," Edwards said.
Now the business's phones are ringing off the hook. Booking inquiries include not only boat parties but also related services, including a food and bartender service on the boats; a party bus that can transport tours from central Austin to their private marina on Lake Travis; and two lakeside rental properties, where parties can go while visiting town. "Our overhead is so high," Edwards said, citing property taxes as a particular concern. "Thank God we're back in business."
Passengers feel similarly. Edwards, who runs Austin's Boat Tours with her husband, the business's namesake, was recently serenaded by a bachelor party, whose members sang Shaggy's "Girl, You're My Angel" in harmony. "People are just so thankful to get out and have fun again," she said.
Austin's Boat Tours is not alone in reporting an uptick in demand. Brian Hill, owner of Premier Party Cruises, has booked 550 tours through August, more than any year on record. The company's next best year was in 2019, when it booked 380 tours. "We've already surpassed our mark," he said of the 2021 season. "Let's keep our foot on the gas."
Lake Travis Yacht Rentals is asking customers to book online to minimize unnecessary phone calls and emails. "OUR STAFF IS OVERWHELMED!" the business wrote in a recent Facebook post.
Cody Jones, assistant commander for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, anticipates this summer will be even busier than last, when boater and swimming volume spiked, and that party boat businesses will benefit from the rising tide. "I certainly believe they're going to see a large increase this summer," he said.
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Officials are asking certain residents in Bastrop State Park to evacuate as crews work to put out a “very active fire” that is currently 0% contained.
The Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to help local fire departments with the Rolling Pines Fire at 100 Park Road 1A, which is consuming 300 acres. Residents of Pine Hill Drive, Pine Tree Loop, Linda Lane and Lisa Lane are being asked to evacuate.
Today’s Bastrop Rolling Pines Fire is burning along Power Plant Road towards Lake Bastrop South Shore. pic.twitter.com/YCvJkIAg1u
— BastropCntyTexas OEM (@BastropCntyOEM) January 18, 2022
Aviation resources have been called to assist.
According to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management, the wildfire sparked during a prescribed burn that took place today, despite wildfire warnings. Park Road 1C from Harmon Road to Park Road 1A had been closed for the prescribed burn.
The blaze is in the same location as the Bastrop Complex Fire of 2011, which burned for 55 days, killing two people, destroying 34,000 acres and around 1,700 homes and buildings. The fire, which started in 2011, became the most destructive wildfire in Texas at the time.
A hotbed for fires, the Hidden Pines Fire started at the same location in 2015, destroying 4,600 acres and 64 structures.
Some road closures have been put in place at State Highway 21 South Shore Lake Bastrop and East State Highway 21.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
After months of record-setting periods for Austin real estate, the Austin Board of Realtors announced Tuesday that the metro's housing market accounted for over $23 billion of economic activity in 2021, making it the biggest year yet for both home sales and median home prices in the metro.
The Austin-Round Rock MSA saw 41,316 homes sold in 2021, 2.5% more than a record-setting 2020. Median home prices skyrocketed as well, rising 30.8% from 2020 to $450,000. The housing market also saw unprecedented impact on Austin's economy, with sales dollar volume jumping to over $23.38 billion, and more homes hit the market in 2021 than any previous year, increasing by 5.9% to 46,449 total homes listed.
(Austin Board of Realtors)
As many recent Austin homebuyers have experienced firsthand, Austin Board of Realtors 2022 President Cord Shiflet said 2021 was the most "exciting, complicated, fast-paced and record-setting housing market" in Austin's history.
Shiflet dubbed the market as "complicated" for a reason—Austin became a case study on supply and demand in 2021, with demand far outpacing the number of active listings, which dropped by 48.2% to 2,348 homes in 2021.
The metro ended the year with 0.6 months of inventory, a far cry from a "healthy" six-month supply, and houses were snatched at breakneck speeds, spending 25 fewer days on the market when compared to 2020. The average home was on the market for 20 days.
But low inventory is more due to high demand than a stagnant homebuilding market, Mark Sprague, Independence Title's state director of information capital, said in the report.
“In 2021, the record number of homes sold were demand-driven transactions and that demand was influenced greatly by companies continuing to target the region for job creation and expansion," Sprague said. "Even though more homes are being built, listed and sold than ever before, our region is still nowhere close to having a comfortable amount of supply to meet the demand, which is why home prices continue to rise steadily.”
Over 23,000 jobs have been promised by companies across the metro as of December 2021, breaking the 2020 record, according to Opportunity Austin, the economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. With an influx of major factories and offices, including Tesla's Giga Texas, Samsung's Taylor plant and a planned 33-floor Facebook office, Sprague said the region's booming market paired with a struggling inventory and supply chain issues could be a double-edged sword in 2022.
"In short, 2022 will see a robust market for home sales and property values, but the region must do more to address inventory, ” Sprague said.
Shiflet recommended that potential homebuyers make a decision ahead of predicted increases in interest rates and home prices and said that he hopes local politicians will continue to prioritize affordable housing in the election year.
Still, Shiflet said a record-breaking housing market reflects Austin's growing reputation as a hub for talent, tech jobs and a good quality of life.
"With all the new jobs across the region from exciting companies like Tesla and Samsung, Austin was put on the world’s stage and captured the hearts and attention of so many," Shiflet said. "We are lucky to call Austin our home when it has so much to offer from a great quality of life to a wonderful destination for innovation and opportunity.”
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