As Covid-19 vaccinations have resumed and more businesses have reopened across the country, Easter weekend saw a resurgence of tourist activity in some cities, possibly indicating a turning point for the struggling tourism industry.
Chip Rogers, president and chief operating officer of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the hospitality industry’s trade organization, said before last weekend the recovery had been “very regionalized,” places like Florida and Texas doing well and “cities that thrive on big meetings and conventions like a Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas” that are struggling to recover.
“You see a very good recovery during the weekend dates, which have now extended. Traditionally it’s Friday to Sunday, now it’s Thursday to Monday, ”he said, referring to the increase in leisure travel. But the lack of business travel means weekday bookings continue to fall behind. Still, he added, there are reasons for “cautious optimism”.
But travelers, even those who are fully vaccinated, should exercise caution when visiting certain states, health experts warn. The number of cases is increasing in some popular destinations, such as Florida, which peaked as revelers flocked there during spring break. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people continue to wear masks, socially distance themselves, and wash their hands frequently, even though some local governments have relaxed or lifted these rules.
Here’s a look at what happened this weekend in five major US cities and what it could mean for the future of the tourism industry.
New York City
New York City came to life last weekend as many businesses and industries that have been closed since the pandemic began reopened on April 1 at reduced capacity, including gyms and concert halls, as well as some hotels and tourist cruises. These reopenings, along with the warmer weather and increasing vaccination rate, appear to have been a boon to the tourism industry, said Chris Heywood, executive vice president of communications for NYC & Company, the official tourism organization. from the city.
“It just sounds like surround sound from a lot of positive news coming out,” Mr. Heywood said.
Times Square, perhaps the best harbinger of tourist activity in the city, has recorded its highest pedestrian count so far this year, around 150,000 per day, according to the Times Square Alliance, which monitors activity in the region. That’s a 394% increase from the same weekend last year, but still a long way from pre-pandemic figures. During the same weekend of 2019, an average of around 364,000 people per day visited the region, an Alliance spokesperson said.
“We still have a way to go until Broadway reopens, which will represent a significant increase in tourism for the city and Times Square,” said Tom Harris, Acting Chairman of the Alliance, “but these small steps allow more people to experience it safely. what Times Square has to offer after a long year. ”
Global warming and the relatively looser regulations of Covid-19 have drawn many tourists to Miami and the surrounding areas. As a result, said Greg Galy, owner of Mila Miami, a restaurant in Miami Beach, many have traveled from out of state for extended stays – especially places like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago – which , according to him, “allowed the company to recover customers that we wouldn’t have.” “
This influx proved problematic during spring break, when police in riot gear used pepperballs to enforce an emergency curfew and disperse revelers while ignoring social distancing and regulations on social media. masks.
Over the weekend of March 28 to April 3, Miami “experienced its highest occupancy rate since the start of the pandemic, with most hotels posting occupancy rates above 75%,” said Suzie Sponder, spokesperson for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. . This is only a 6.6% drop from the same weekend in 2019.
Ms Sponder added that the average room price for the weekend was $ 282.29, up 25% from 2019. And Mr Rogers, of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said revenues, which are still falling across the board, are the best indicator. industry recovery, noting that strong Miami numbers are the exception rather than the rule.
In the tourism industry, “there are still a lot of people out of work,” he said, “because these are the big city-center hotels that employ the most people, because ‘they have these huge food and beverage operations that are not working right now. This is where most of the job losses occur. “
Most hotel occupancy rates in Los Angeles have increased steadily week-to-week since the start of the year, according to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.
“Our weekends have been over 70% busy over the past two weekends,” Jamie Simpson, vice president of global communications for the board, wrote on Monday. This number remained stable over the Easter weekend, with an average occupancy of 70.4%. This is the highest since last March, before the start of the pandemic.
Ms Simpson said the council is forecasting a 35% increase in visits in 2021 from 2020, but does not plan to reach 2019 levels until 2024.
Yet, as more businesses reopen, the board is starting to market to domestic visitors. The city’s museums have started to reopen, as have theme parks and live outdoor events. (Disneyland, in nearby Anaheim, is slated to reopen in late April.)
“It’s been an incredibly tough year for the restaurant industry, but Los Angeles has seen a bubble of new hot restaurants open recently,” Simpson said, along with several new hotels.
In Las Vegas, there have been a series of re-openings, including the restart of pool parties at a number of hotels.
“If you’re in Vegas and trying to go to a pool, it’s not easy,” said Derek Stevens, who owns and is the COO of Circa Resort & Casino. “It’s like trying to book a dinner reservation on New Years Eve. It’s not something you do the night before. Seats in the pools at his properties, which include two other hotels, are booked a month in advance due to reduced capacity limits and social distancing, which he says shows demand exists. leisure travel. Hotels and other places in the city are limited to 50% of their capacity.
Although Easter weekend is historically the second slowest weekend in town, this year has been different due to March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournaments. “Everything was packed at the restricted capacity level,” he said. “On Saturday, all of our rooms were full at 10 am because of the Final Four. I think it was all over Las Vegas.
Mr Stevens said that since the Super Bowl in February there were indications that the Vegas tourism industry is recovering, adding that its three hotels have been sold out every weekend since. “I have never seen a booking at the rate of what we have seen in the last three months or so. It is the strongest reservation I have ever seen, ”he said.
But there is always a drop during the weekdays due to the lack of conferences or conventions. “What we are seeing is a huge pent-up demand for leisure travel which, although it takes place all summer, does not necessarily mean that business travel will follow,” he said. declared.
Although New Orleans has seen a boost during Spring Break, Passover and Easter, there is still a long way to go “before a full recovery of our $ 10 billion hotel industry,” Kelly said. Schulz, senior vice president of communications at New Orleans & Company.
Hotel occupancy rates have been inconsistent, ranging from 20% to 49% between January and March, and in some cases as high as 90% on key French Quarter weekends, Ms. Schulz said.
Last weekend, hotels recorded an occupancy rate of just over 68%, according to STR, a global hotel data and analysis company.
“New Orleans has one of the lowest Covid positivity rates in Louisiana and among the highest vaccination rates,” Ms. Schulz said. She hopes that, along with “the easing of restrictions, including the return of live music, is another sign that brighter days are ahead.”
People also seem to be planning future trips, with 60% of people visiting NewOrleans.com planning a trip in the next three months. Ms Schulz notes that she is “optimistic about the fourth quarter of 2021 with a schedule of conventions and festivals.”
While leisure travel over the summer is expected to keep the industry afloat, Rogers said business travel will need to pick up to bring the industry back to 2019 levels.
“While we are optimistic, what worries us and concerns us is what happens after Labor Day when all these pleasure trips are over?” he said. Business travel, he said, “is absolutely necessary if we are to survive.”