Memorial Day weekend not only kicks off the start of summer but also, for many Americans, kicks off travel and vacation season. But this year will obviously be different, with millions stuck sheltering in place at home, due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, travel spending for the weekend is expected to fall 66% to $4.2 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Even though some areas are starting to see small upticks in traffic, tourism officials say that most travel won't come until later in the season. Domestic air travel is expected to still be sparse and "almost everyone" who travels will be expected to drive.
Additionally, seasonal hiring is also expected to plunge more than 75% from a year ago. The younger European workers that staff many U.S. resorts for the summer are expected to stay home. Visa processing for U.S. work and travel visas has "basically shut down everywhere" except for farmwork.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost half of all leisure and hospitality employees have lost their jobs.
Areas that are accessible by car are expected to be popular destinations this summer. That includes places like the Florida panhandle, the Carolina coasts, Oregon and Washington. Even parts of Wisconsin and Michigan are expected to be destinations for American road trips.
Camping is another alternative that vacationers may try this year. Judson Gee’s, who has a vacation rental home in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, said: “People are absolutely dying to get out of their house and more comfortable to be outdoors than in crowded spots.”
Just 32% of hotel rooms were occupied as of the week ending May 16. This is despite hotel bookings improving in recent weeks. As of May 14, more than 3,000 hotels remained closed.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress earlier this week: “It will take some time for the public to regain confidence and adapt to the new world and start traveling, taking vacations.”
Places like Broadway and Disneyworld, popular tourist destinations, remain closed. Fred Dixon, the president and chief executive of NYC & Company, which promotes tourism said: "When restrictions are lifted, there is a lot of pent-up demand. At the same time, people will be more cautious now, just generally about how they make decisions to travel.”
But places like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina are starting to get busier and restrictions have begun lifting, allowing hotels to take new reservations.
Heather Baker and her husband, from Wilkesboro, North Carolina, said: “The beaches were packed. Myrtle Beach is a great mini-vacation. It’s only a four-hour drive for us, which makes for a nice little getaway.”
While June bookings are down more than 25% from last year, the shortfall is expected to narrow as summer progresses. Vacation Myrtle Beach, which operates 14 hotels and condo properties in the area, has hired less than 100 seasonal employees this year compared to the 700 they hired last year.
Bloomberg economist Carl Riccadonna concluded: “Certain businesses with a relatively short ‘high season’ may not be able to reopen in time to salvage their business for the year. If your year is really 3-4 months in the summer, then a lost few months really means a lost year--and in many cases a failed business.”