By MAE ANDERSON Business Writer AP
In the United States, small businesses that depend on tourism and vacationers say business is rebounding as Americans hold back postponed trips and spend freely on food, entertainment and souvenirs.
U.S. states and cities have relaxed many of their restrictions on crowd size and wearing masks, a positive sign for businesses that have struggled for more than a year when theme parks and other tourist attractions went downhill. been closed.
Still, returning to a pre-pandemic ânormalâ is a way forward for most. There are few business travelers and international tourists. Many businesses are struggling with staff shortages and other challenges. And if an increase in the more contagious delta variant or another variant of the coronavirus forces states to recreate restrictions or blockages, progress could be lost.
The US Travel Association, a travel industry trade group, predicts that domestic travel spending will total $ 787 billion in 2021. That’s a 22% increase from 2020 but still a 20% decline. from 2019 levels. The association predicts that travel spending will not fully rebound above 2019 levels until 2024.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Jenny Kimball, co-owner of independent hotel La Fonda on the Plaza, with 180 rooms, said her hotel was full all summer and had booked about 90% on average for the fall. It’s a welcome change from the two or three guests the hotel had at one point as it remained open during the height of the pandemic.
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âIt’s crazy busy, it’s wonderful, everyone is happy,â she said.
The clientele is different from those before the pandemic: there are more families and people working remotely, and they stay longer, on average four or five nights compared to two or three.
âFamilies want to come and stay longer and really on vacation and see more of the city and more museums,â says Kimball.
Kimball’s biggest problem: a shortage of manpower in the restaurant, bar, and kitchen. She urged vacationers to be patient.
âIt’s very difficult after such a horrible year to get the demand and not be able to serve them because we don’t have 100% staff in place yet,â she says.
Heather Bise owns and operates a 7-room bed-and-breakfast in Cleveland, Ohio, near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She opened The House of Bise Bespoke in 2019 and has hosted international tourists, attracting guests from New Zealand, Botswana, Eastern Europe and other distant places.
Cancellations began in January 2020 and she has refunded guests thousands of dollars.
Thus, Bise reorganized its business model and switched to renting the whole house. Ohio lifted restrictions on mass gatherings in March and the Hall of Fame reopened in June. Business has rebounded in the past two months – so much so that she is earning more than she was before the pandemic. The demand is so strong that it has increased the prices and has gone from breakfast and dinner to breakfast.
But her guests are now all from the United States, usually families gathering for a reunion or wedding parties – which now account for 60% of her business. She worries that the wedding business will evaporate after the summer and fall.
âLet’s just hope people get married in January,â she said.
Many owners are pleasantly surprised by the pickup of domestic tourists, but still need to see business travelers and overseas tourists before business returns to normal. It might take a while. Although improved from 2020, the USTA estimates that business travel spending this year will be less than half of 2019’s $ 270 million, and international travel spending will total about a third of $ 179 million. dollars spent two years ago.
Martha Sheridan, of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Boston’s tourism industry relies on âleisure visitorsâ – families traveling to town to see attractions, couples on vacation, and women taking trips. âGirls’ weekendsâ. This means that weekend activity is strong, but mid-week activity is still “considerably less than it normally would”.
That could start to change, she said, when conventions resume in late July.
Due to the pandemic, Boston Duck Tours has lost the large groups it usually relies on – not only people on international cruises in port or in town for business trips, but also students on school trips. The tour group has offered land and water tours in the Boston area every year since 1994.
Business is around 80% of 2019 levels, with 21 of the 28 ducks – which can operate on land and water – operating at around 75% of capacity. But vacationers are back in force, said Cindy Brown, CEO of the company.
âWe didn’t know how busy we would be,â she said. “I was shocked at how many people are eager to travel, see attractions and get out of their homes.”
And so far, tourists have spent lavishly, say small business owners.
Denise Quinn owns The Gilded Oyster jewelry store in Falmouth, Massachusetts, which relies on Cape Cod vacationers for much of its business.
Since May, when Massachusetts ditched its mask mandate and restrictions on indoor and outdoor assembly capacity, shoppers have been coming in droves and spending more.
âNow it’s just great to be here, we’ve opened up and the mask is over,â she said. âVacation rentals and hostels are all booked and people want to treat themselves. “
People spend more in the store, she said, buying multiple items instead of just one, including gifts for themselves and others.
“The average price is significantly higher,” she said. “People come to have fun and get a souvenir of their time in Cape Town.”
Quinn says she is concerned that COVID cases are on the rise again and hopes to keep business as usual even if restrictions are put in place. If needed, she’s willing to fall back on a mask warrant, online shopping, curbside pickup, and door-to-door delivery to keep the business running.
Alan Dietrich, CEO of Crater Lake Spirits in Bend, Ore., Which has two tasting rooms for tourists coming to the area, said he had seen an explosion in demand since pandemic restrictions were fully lifted before The 4th of July.
âEvery minute that we are open, we see people come in,â he said. âPeople have been locked up for 14 months, they are dying to do something. The limiting factor is only the staff.
He also sees people spending freely. In Bend, the average price of an entree has increased by $ 3 and the price of a cocktail has increased by $ 1 due to understaffing and rising wholesale food prices, says Dietrich, who also sits. on the Board of Directors of the Bend Tourism Development Group.
“Nobody balks at all with the prices,” he added. “Nobody cares what things cost right now, people are just happy to be outside.”
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