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COVID-19 and Tourism

Posted by on Jul 9, 2020 in Blog | No Comments

The travel industry generally accounts for about 3% of GDP and was the very first economic casualty of the “stay-at-home” orders. Within a matter of just a few weeks, air travel dropped to near zero. Cruise lines cancelled their entire seasons. Major theme parks closed. Even national parks closed. Entire hotels shut down.

Hotel occupancy rates fell from over 62% to under 25% between February and April. TSA checkpoint counts declined from an average of 2.2 million per day in early February to a mere 87,534 passengers on April 14th (see chart). Given this precipitous decline in airline traffic, it should come as no surprise that the hardest hit hotel market was in Hawaii, with April occupancy rates around 9% (Hawaii News Now, May 26,2020), with revenues down 97% from the same month last year. And it really was worse than that, since about 45% of the hotel room supply was excluded from the count, as these hotels were completely closed. The real occupancy rate was around 5%.

The vacation rental business did not fare much better, with April occupancies down from 60% last year to just over 12% in Hawaii (VRM Intel). Other areas were not spared either – in Oregon, a mere 8.7% of available rental nights were booked and in the Gulf Coast region, 14.2%.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, unemployment rates in the sector averaged 51% at the peak, and total domestic travel spending for the year is estimated to drop from $972 billion to $583 billion – and even this might be an optimistic figure.

Interestingly, the RV business is booming when just a year ago, pundits were watching RV sales decrease year after year, and predicting a 20% drop for 2020. Instead, aided by low fuel prices, manufacturers are unable to keep up with demand and Thor Industries division Marathon expects sales to be up 30% for the year.

The map below shows the ratio between second quarter (April-June) estimated 2020 and 2019 overnight population in hotels with our just released database, showing massive losses in key tourist areas such as Orlando, Las Vegas, Southern California, and much of the northeast from Washington to Boston.

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