TAMPA, Fla. — As we head into what is expected to be a very busy summer travel season, the tourism industry is on the rebound in the US and especially in the Tampa Bay area.
Travelers are eager to make up vacations they’ve missed last year.
“We’ve had the vaccine so now we feel a little more comfortable getting out and visiting more places,” said Sean James.
James took his family to LEGOLAND Florida Resort for their first major vacation since the pandemic. “It’s nice. It’s almost like life is getting back to normal again,” he said.
Economists say tourism is almost back to normal. During his presentation at a tourism summit in Tampa, economist Adam Sacks, said 89% of travelers say they have plans to travel in the next six months.
“By the end of 2022 we’re going to have the same number of people traveling in the US as before. International travel is going to take a few years longer,” said Adam Sacks President of Tourism Economics.
Visit Tampa Bay tells ABC Action News tourism is doing very well considering the lack of international travelers.
“It’s been a lot of domestic leisure travelers that we’ve seen obviously from throughout the state, but also from other parts of the country we’ve had some big events that have drawn lots of people to the destination. We’ve had a Super Bowl, Wrestlemania,” said Santiago Corrada, President & CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.
Visit Tampa Bay said the opening of new hotels like the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street speaks to the resurgence of tourism in the area.
Occupancy numbers in Tampa hotels are almost back to 2019 numbers. Hotel occupancy is currently 72 percent compared to 23 percent last year and 77 in 2019.
“We added 2000 rooms during the pandemic, that’s not happening in a lot of other places,” Corrada said.
We did some digging to find out how attendance has been at local tourist destinations.
At LEGOLAND they’re projecting this summer to meet or even exceed 2019.
“We really saw it with Spring Break as a tipping point. We are seeing a return of not only our Florida residents but our domestic US tourists as well,” said Rex Jackson, President of LEGOLAND Florida Resort.
Bok Tower Gardens in Polk County said attendance in March was the best they’ve had in more than 30 years. ZooTampa said 2021 has been a record year for attendance, they’re set to exceed one million visitors.
“We are not only having a tremendous attendance as far as people coming through the gate but people spending money once they get into the park and enjoying themselves and having a wonderful time,” said Joe Couceiro, CEO of ZooTampa.
While tourism has made a comeback, workers have not. All the destinations we spoke with, said they are aggressively hiring.
Still, experts say the economy will be a catalyst to travel in the coming year.
“The people that travel the most and spend the most have been relatively unaffected even by the job losses and been saving a tremendous amount of money so as things open up we’re seeing pent-up demand,” Sacks said.