By John Haughey
The Center Square
May 29, 2021
Businesses across Florida are hoping for a Memorial Day weekend surge that signals the state’s $90 billion tourist/hospitality industry’s post-pandemic recovery is gaining momentum.
And so far, so good, Visitors bureaus in South Florida, Orlando and Tampa Friday reported dramatically spiking hotel occupancies, crowded airports and a shortage of rental cars.
In addition to a surge in out-of-staters, AAA estimates more than 2 million Floridians will drive 50 miles or more during Memorial Day weekend, a 62% percent increase over last year.
Nationwide, AAA said it expects more than 37 million Americans to travel between May 27-31, a 60% increase from last year’s 23 million travelers.
“A year’s worth of pent-up demand is being unleashed this summer, as Americans anticipate the kick-off to the season,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA. “Travel bookings with AAA-The Auto Club Group have surged recently, setting the stage for what should be a busy holiday weekend and an exciting summer.”
This weekend is considered pivotal for Florida’s tourist industry, the state’s biggest job-generator.
Florida drew 79.75 million visitors during pandemic-skewered 2020, a 39.3% drop from the 131.4 million who visited the Sunshine State in 2019 and the lowest number in a decade, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.
With more people getting vaccinated and pandemic protocols being scaled back, the travel industry anticipates a surge in travel, especially domestically, this summer.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, will spend $50 million promoting the state in “drivable” East Coast markets as well as in California, Oregon and Washington.
The AAA classifies travels as “road trips” or “travel bookings.” Las Vegas is expected to be the top travel destination for road trips this Memorial Day weekend followed by Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Denver and Nashville.
Orlando leads AAA’s travel bookings followed by Las Vegas, Honolulu, Anchorage and Colorado Springs.
With Orlando-area theme parks loosening COVID-19 restrictions, hotel bookings in Orlando Friday was 95% of what it was before Memorial Day weekend 2019, according to Visit Orlando.
Orlando International Airport (OIA) expects to see more than 356,000 passengers during the Memorial Day weekend this year, down just 13% from 409,000 in 2019 and up 550% from 54,000 people in 2020.
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO Phil Brown attributed the increasing numbers to “a combination of factors, including the vaccines, availability of seats into the market and pent-up demand all point to a potentially strong summer travel season. In fact, Visit Orlando data shows airport nonstop domestic seat capacity from June through August is 7% higher than summer 2019, and up 105% from 2020.”
Brown said Central Florida June hotel bookings are about 25% below 2019, but up 221% compared to 2020.
In 2020, 35.3 million tourists visited Orlando, down 53% from 76 million in 2019, according to Visit Orlando. The 40.7 million fewer tourists amounts to an estimated $25 billion in lost spending, according to the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association’s tourism calculator.
Miami International Airport (MIA) is expecting 110,000 travelers each day this weekend, which would make it the busiest weekend since the pandemic emerged in March 2020.
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau anticipates hotel occupancy levels by Saturday will surge 8% higher on than it was on the same day in 2019.
There’s so much activity at airports and hotels, not just in Florida but in other tourist destinations such as in Hawaii, a rental car-shortage has emerged, driving up prices and causing long waits at airports.