May 2021

Happy May!  We’re now well into Spring and heading for Summer. Can you believe it? Time for a quick update on how tourism is progressing here on the Northern Gulf Coast.

Talking to the hospitality folks here, things are going really well.  Hotels and vacation rentals are reporting very high occupancy levels, something that has been happening right the way through the winter and spring season.  ADR or Average Daily Rate, which is the prices for which hotel rooms and rentals sell, has remained high.  That means no discounting. If anything, rates are going up.  Future bookings are looking very good too.  That’s not only good news for hotel and property owners but great for those of us who work in the industry.  It means more job security and more permanent, rather than seasonal jobs.

The restaurants are also reporting good business. There are still some restrictions on how many diners restaurants can seat at a time (in some areas) but that does not seem to be hurting many businesses.  In fact some of my restaurant contacts are saying that visitors are actually spending more.

Companies dealing in tours and experiences are doing very well with many attractions and excursions having the level of bookings in April that they would normally expect in June.

Airlines flying into the area are showing excellent loads with some carriers replacing their smaller regional jets with larger sized aircraft.  Southwest Airlines, who are due to start flying into Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (The fastest growing airport in the country apparently) in May, have already increased their frequency from a number of their destinations.

One downside to this apparent success is that hotels, property management companies, restaurants and other parts of the industry are finding difficulty in recruiting enough employees.  That’s always a problem here of course, but it’s exacerbated this year for two reasons.  Firstly, some people who are normally what may called ‘casual’ have been receiving unemployment benefit due to the pandemic.  That will continue until September, and it seems that some of these folks are unwilling to work when they can draw benefit for staying at home.  More concerning is that some hospitality workers have found alternative employment during the pandemic and are now happy with their new careers.  This is a worldwide problem, not just here.  Good news for those of us in the industry is that employers are now offering high pay rates, hiring bonuses and other benefits.  If anyone is looking to break into the business, now is a good time to do it. It’s an ‘employees market’!

We recently we spent a weekend in New Orleans.  It was our first trip since getting our vaccines, and our first visit to the city since early 2020.  It was an interesting experience as it was also our first foray outside Florida since the beginning of the pandemic.  Certainly there was a different ‘vibe’ in New Orleans than here in The Sunshine State.  Mask wearing was much more prevalent than here – Louisiana and NOLA still have mask mandates, and they still have curfews (recently opened out to 1am in the city).  There appeared to be little resistance to mask wearing and no issues about social distancing according to my industry contacts.  As a result the city has opened up and it feels things may be getting back to normal, although ‘normal’ is a relative term of course.  Probably the biggest problem New Orleans has is that many hotels who closed at the start of the virus period have yet to reopen. This is resulting in high occupancy rates for the hotels that are in operation.  Although the events (Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest etc.) that normally cause very high rates and occupancy have not happened this year, things are looking up.  Jazz Fest 2021 has been rescheduled for October and bookings for Mardi Gras ‘22 are looking good.

It’s really encouraging to see such an upturn in the local tourism business.  The rest of the world is still suffering, and we’re not out of the woods here yet.  For Florida, the lack of international arrivals is damaging. We do need those overseas visitors – and indeed many people here want to travel overseas too.  However we will get there and locally things are looking good.