Tourism's outlook brightens
For those in the tourism industry, conditions are improving, and contacts in the District are optimistic about the future. The members of the travel and tourism advisory council, who meet twice a year at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Miami Branch, reported last week that for their industry, recovery was well on its way and that the outlook has brightened.
Hotel occupancy rates in some of the larger destinations in the Southeast have improved compared with last year (see the chart), although 2009 was a tough year for hotels. Contacts have noticed that not only has business travel increased recently but also that group travel bookings are on the rise, giving way to higher expectations for 2011.
A major source of tourism growth has come from abroad. International visitors to the United States, especially to the Southeast, have increased significantly. The table below shows passenger traffic at some of the major airports in the District. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, of the 30 busiest airports in the United States, Atlanta ranks number one, and the airports in Orlando, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are also on the list.
Meanwhile, contacts noted that domestic travelers are still looking for deals and discounts. Members on the advisory council employed in the cruise line industry reported that while demand still exists for cruises, it is for less exotic and less distant cruises. In addition, passengers are not spending onboard as much as they did before the recession began. Similarly, contacts in the restaurant business also noted that spending at restaurants has downshifted. Not only are clients going out to restaurants less often, but when they do go out, they're buying less expensive meals at lower-cost restaurants.
One of the biggest hurdles for the Southeastern tourism industry was and continues to be the BP oil spill. Members of the advisory council confirmed that the effect of the oil spill on their business was substantial; however, the challenge lying ahead is travelers' perception of the Gulf Coast. A risk factor for the tourism industry is long-term damage to the Gulf Coast brand as a fishing, recreation, and tourism destination.
Despite the challenges facing the tourism industry, the outlook remains bright. As one member of the council put it, "People still want to take their vacations, even if that means cutting back elsewhere."
By Sandra Kollen, a senior analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department
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