Despite some of the state’s largest reopenings taking place over the past month ahead of Memorial Day weekend, many travel industry insiders still do not expect travel to exceed pre-pandemic levels.
The American Automobile Association estimates that 37 million people are expected to travel this coming holiday weekend, which they define as running May 27 to May 31.
While still 60% above Memorial Day travel numbers from last year, when much of the nation was still in the throes of COVID-19’s first wave and intense restrictions on travel and businesses, it’s ultimately 6 million fewer travelers than what AAA recorded in 2019.
Data for the 2020 tourism season has been rather dismal: A report released by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism earlier this month found that visitation dropped 27% from a record-breaking 116 million in 2019 to 86.4 million in 2020.
Tourism spending dropped 37% from $46.4 billion in 2019 to $29.4 billion in 2020, breaking a decade of growth that began in 2009 following the Great Recession, the report found.
In 2021, labor shortages and issues with hiring workers threaten to derail recovery efforts for places like the iconic Jersey Shore.
This year, most of the travel will be via road rather than airplane, AAA suggested. And indeed United Airlines, which uses Newark Liberty International Airport as one of its major hubs in the nation, expects 1.3 million travelers throughout the U.S. this Memorial Day weekend, compared to 2.3 million travelers in 2019.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns Newark airport, the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River tunnels, is expecting 4.3 million travelers across its facilities in the two states. That’s compared to 6 million travelers in 2019.
An estimated 2 million people used the New York City area airports in 2019, while that number has dropped to 920,000 expected passengers this weekend.
Jeffrey Vasser, who heads the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, previously told NJBIZ that he expects summer tourism to places like the Jersey Shore or Atlantic City casinos would be driven by the “short-term drive market,” or those comfortable using a car with friends or family “they’ve been with all winter, versus an airplane.”
That means that places like New York, Pennsylvania, the Delmarva Peninsula, Washington, D.C. and southern New England have been the focus of marketing efforts.
Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, which does the state’s annual tourism outlook survey each May, said that outdoor activities and accessibility to many of the East Coast’s population mega-centers could all count in the state’s favor this summer.