New Jersey’s travel and tourism industry could take well into the middle of the decade to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to several panelists at a March 24 virtual event hosted by the Newark Regional Business Partnership.
Granted, some aspects of tourism in the state, like domestic travel, will bounce back quicker and could see signs of opening up much sooner.
Travelers may be “more likely to get into a car and drive with their family and their pod than they may be to get on an airplane,” suggested Jeff Vasser, who heads the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism.
“Our marketing will be targeted to the drive market,” he added.
Vasser said that in 2019, the state saw 116 million visitors who spent a combined $46 billion in the local economy. Visitation nosedived 25% in 2020, he said.
Many Jersey Shore homeowners NJBIZ previously interviewed said they’ve received inquiries about summer rentals from prospective customers far beyond New Jersey, going into upstate New York and New England.
“[Travelers are] going to be going to the beach locations, they’re going to be going to the mountains… a place where people can go and still be outside,” said Veronica Andrews, an analyst with STR, which provides market data on the hotel industry.
Higher population areas like Newark could be at a disadvantage, especially among their hotel stock. Andrews suggested. A rebound to pre-pandemic levels last seen in 2019 could take well into 2023 or 2024.
But with air travel limited to within the United States for the near future, and international travel cratering amid the continuing pandemic and spread of new variants, many travelers are simply looking for any kind of change of scenery within the national borders.
Travelers are “typically looking at destinations that are dissimilar from where they’re currently based,” said Pat Ryan, a data analyst with United Airlines, which uses Newark Liberty International Airport as one of its travel hubs.
That’s meant surges in travelers from states such as Texas, California and Florida, which are dramatically different from Newark and New York City, Ryan suggested.
“The travelers are going to tend to be out-of-towners focused on New Jersey… at least in the near term,” Ryan said.
Business has slumped and a rebound is slow-going amid telecommuting and consistent fears about the virus. That means business travel could lag well into 2022, Ryan said.
“This is a slow building of confidence… The confidence that people are building up through leisure travel will need to be established first.”
The multi-billion-dollar Terminal One project at Newark Airport, which would have initially gone online later this year, now does not expect its first gates to open until next year, according to Jim Gill, who oversees the New Jersey airports for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.