If you are like me, you’ve got cabin fever. I haven’t taken a real vacation in over a year, so I find myself browsing online travel websites with the hope of snagging a great deal.
While I’ve mastered the staycation and have more trinkets to help me adapt to the home lifestyle, I still want to travel. At the same time, some of the reports of large gatherings still give me pause, and a new variant of COVID-19 was announced this week.
Numerous outdoor events have resulted in an uptick in COVID-19 cases. When the risk of infection is coupled with a decrease in the number of vaccinations, any traveler seeking a vacation or quick trip needs to weigh the pros and the cons.
Learn more about National Travel and Tourism Week, May 2-8.
Tourism’s Effect on the US Economy
We have witnessed the huge impact the travel industry has on the U.S. economy. Before the pandemic, 1.5 billion tourists traveled to a variety of international destinations. The United States was 3rd in all international travel destinations, with France and Spain leading in the first and second slots, respectively.
According to WorldAtlas, “tourism is one of the United States’ biggest contributors to the country’s GDP. The industry supports over 7 million jobs, and in 2017, tourism generated USD 1.6 trillion in economic output.”
The U.S. Travel Association notes that “travel spending is down nearly $500 billion, costing the U.S. economy $1.1 trillion” – 10 times the economic impact of 9/11. It’s not a hard stretch of the imagination to understand that tourism was the U.S. industry that had the most jobs lost and the most businesses that permanently closed in 2020.
WTTC Expects an Economic Recovery
In late April 2021, the 20th summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) was held in Cancun, Mexico, and had 20,000 virtual participants. The WTTC reported promising news of an impending economic recovery: “According to the council’s estimates, mobility and international travel may resume in June, and if it materializes its contribution to world GDP would increase this year by up to 48.5 percent and reach levels similar to the time immediately prior to the COVID-19 in 2022 for an annualized rebound of 25.3 percent.” This statement shows that by all WTTC metrics, travel is bouncing back.
While some international countries are experiencing all-time COVID-19 reporting records, other countries are viewing this news as a welcome relief.
US Tourism Is on the Rebound
In addition to international travel, U.S. tourism is on the rebound, according to many local municipalities. While international travel is limited by travel bans due to COVID-19, more Americans are traveling within the U.S. and the length of their stays are expanding as cities loosen their pandemic restrictions.
The majority of U.S. states have lifted the COVID-19 restrictions requiring travelers to have a recent negative COVID-19 test or to quarantine for 10 days upon arriving in a state. In addition, states like Maryland have lifted outdoor mask mandates, and states like Maine that have occupancy limits for outdoor gatherings are supposed to increase the limit from 75% capacity to 100% on May 24. Similarly, indoor gathering capacity will go from 50% to 75% under Maine’s reopening plan.
New York, the most visited city by international tourists, is reportedly on track to fully reopen by July 1st. Chicago has also announced relaxing or removing each of the COVID-19 guidelines instituted last year as a part of their ‘Open Chicago’ plan.
Are Americans Ready to Travel?
After a year of self-quarantining, most U.S. residents have expressed a need to get out and travel. Local travel and tourism can take a variety of forms from local flea markets, farmer’s markets, and places of worship to larger events such as conferences and meetings, spectator events, and festivals.
Reporter Jason Schaffer of the Anna Maria Island Sun quotes research expert Anne Wittine: “In terms of feeling safe, we’ve got 50% (of survey participants) saying they feel safe dining in a restaurant, 61% saying they feel safe shopping, 38% are OK with visiting indoor attractions, and taking a domestic flight is at 35%. All of these numbers are the highest we’ve seen since we started this (pandemic).” As tourists become more comfortable traveling, one visitor’s experience can touch dozens of tourism jobs and have a positive ripple effect on a region’s economy.
The Cost to Travel
Vacation prices have traditionally risen after Memorial Day, which is considered the unofficial start of summer. Many cities and municipalities have now instituted a tourism tax to recoup lost revenue from the drop in travel during 2020.
In some cases, the tourism tax can equate to millions of dollars for a struggling city. However, the downside is that the cost to vacation will continue to increase as costs are passed on to consumers.
So how can you find an affordable vacation and still adheres to government healthcare guidelines? Here are a few of my suggestions for family or individual travel:
- Shop local — Find a tourist destination within a few hours of your home. Driving your own vehicle saves you money.
- Opt for day trips — You can significantly cut your costs if you avoid an overnight stay.
- Travel during the week — Most destination cities are known for increasing prices on the weekend and decreasing prices during the week.
- Negotiate — Everything is negotiable. If you are staying six nights at a destination, ask for the weekly rate. Other items that are negotiable are the check-in/check-out times, the amenities and parking.
- Compare prices — There are many websites and apps where you can check prices for hotel, car, flight, and attractions. In some cases, they save you as much as 50%.
- Offer to write a review — Smaller businesses thrive on personal recommendations. If you have a lot of social media followers, a positive review can be worth its weight in gold and provide you with a discounted rate.
- Travel alone — While it may sound obvious, the fewer people who travel with you, the more you’ll save in overall costs.
- Read the fine print — Many destinations have strict rules/restrictions on last-minute changes and cancellations, so know your options before you book your next trip.
- Schedule early — Many attractions offer discounts for early bookings. In addition, many attractions are scheduling the time of your visit in order to adhere to government health capacity guidelines, so it’s best to have a plan in place early.
- Pack a lunch — You can save a lot of money by bringing your own meal and beverage instead of buying prepared food.
So regardless of your comfort level of venturing out or staying in, the U.S. travel and tourism season is still going on in 2021. Over time, the number of people wishing to travel will boost the local and national economy and bring back jobs.
About the Author
Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor at American Public University with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Childrens’ Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STEAM advocate, and STEM communicator, she holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.