PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Bouncing back! Florida’s tourism industry could recover from the COVID-19 pandemic impacts quicker than other states around the country, according to a new study just released by Tripadvisor.
The study found 65% of travelers are planning domestic Fall getaways, most planning to take short trips of 2-5 nights. Both St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach made the top 10 list of U.S. travel destinations for Fall 2020.
Like so many of us, Luis Rodriguez was forced to cancel his vacation this year.
“We were supposed to be on an Alaskan cruise this week and instead we’re here in Florida,” he explained.
Rodriguez, who lives in Miami, is visiting Treasure Island for the very first time.
“It’s nice, it’s really great here,” he added.
Clyde Smith at the Bilmar Beach Resort says travelers are finally trickling back, and while some are flying into Tampa Bay, many are still opting for shorter and closer vacations.
“I think visitors feel a little safer now than they did earlier through this crisis. I think it’s going to be a strong fall season for us,” Smith said.
Of course, safety continues to be a big factor.
“As long as guests are following the rules, it’s great to see them back. Which, most of them are. We’ve seen it get better and better with people understanding the protocols, being patient with the protocols and doing the right thing,” Smith added.
The pandemic is also forcing tourism businesses to get creative. Some Pinellas County resorts, like the Tradewinds in St. Pete Beach, are even hiring tutors to work with families who have kids on vacation but learning virtually.
Smith also says they updated their entire WiFi internet system at the Bilmar, allowing families to work and learn right from their hotel room overlooking the beach.
“Then once the school day is over they can go out and enjoy the fabulous beach, sunset, or an ice cream on the sand,” Robin Miller of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce added.
Tripadvisor expects Florida’s tourism industry to recover faster than other parts of the U.S. One factor is the number of outdoor activities the state has to offer like boating, kayaking, hiking and enjoying the beach.
That’s encouraging for gift shop owner Dave Horne who owns Captain Dave’s Trading Company in Treasure Island.
“It’s hopeful. It really is. You gotta do the best you can and pray,” he said.
Horne says sales are still way down from last year, but he’s hopeful tourists will come back and locals will support small businesses.
“When you purchase from a small business, that makes a difference in someone’s life and in their family. I try to fill my shop with items from local merchants and artists,” he said.
Tripadvisor also found more travelers are looking to book at a later date, many making bookings less than a week in advance.
The other top U.S. Destinations for Fall 2020 besides St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach include:
- Key Largo, Florida
- Key West, Florida
- Atlantic City, New Jersey
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- Sedona, Arizona
- Scottsdale, Arizona
- San Diego, California
- Savannah, Georgia