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U.S. travelers, despite rising coronavirus case counts, aren’t shying away from booking a hotel stay in select leisure markets during the Thanksgiving holiday week.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans last week to avoid travel during Thanksgiving to avoid further spread of the virus at a time when case counts hit new record highs on nearly a daily basis. But the CDC’s caution isn’t reflected in hotel occupancy rates in markets near beaches, national parks, and ski slopes.
“Drive-to, leisure travel, and warm weather are the three key drivers of travel right now,” said American Hotel & Lodging Association CEO Chip Rogers.
Markets like Key West, Florida; Vail, Colorado; and Santa Barbara, California, are on track to surpass 50 percent hotel occupancy rates the week of Thanksgiving, according to forward-looking booking data from Amadeus. Moab, Utah, and Sedona, Arizona — near Arches National Park and Red Rock State Park, respectively — are nearing 80 percent occupancy rates.
Marriott saw increases in Thanksgiving pre-bookings for warmer destinations like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina compared to Labor Day, a company spokesperson told Skift. The biggest jump in reservations was in Hawaii, which had greater travel restrictions over the Labor Day holiday compared to Thanksgiving.
But strong booking data in select markets doesn’t spell success for the entire U.S. Occupancy rates are still well below 2019 levels, and rising case counts are causing states to reenact tougher travel restrictions.
“At the beginning of November, the Thanksgiving holiday was looking to be very strong for Boston hotels. Bookings were comparable, if not better to, prior years,” said Sebastian Colella, vice president of Boston-based hospitality consulting firm Pinnacle Advisory Group. “[But the] state imposed new travel and gathering restrictions due to the recent surge in case numbers. As a result, hotels are seeing a lot of in-week cancellations.”
Boston is typically a top 25 U.S. hotel market, but the pandemic and Massachusetts’ accompanying travel restrictions have — like most major cities — decimated its hotel performance. While there were initial signs of strong hotel bookings for the holiday week, rising case counts once again thwarted travel into the Bay State.
Massachusetts is now only letting visitors from Hawaii and Vermont arrive without requiring a 14-day quarantine or proof of a negative coronavirus test.
The problem isn’t unique to New England. There doesn’t appear to be any concerted federal effort to contain the virus heading into the winter beyond hope a vaccine will begin distribution in small numbers sometime next month. Vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Moderna would hopefully be widely available by the spring.
That will take a toll on hoteliers relying on leisure travel to stay afloat during a time when corporate travel is non-existent.
“The general sentiment is this is the beginning of what will be the most difficult stretch of the pandemic for hoteliers, from now until April,” Rogers said.