TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – Even though travel restrictions are beginning to loosen up, it will be a while before the tourism industry begins a full recovery in Southern Arizona.
The travel industry was likely the hardest hit sector of the economy because of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.
“I think this is the beginning of the end,” said Dan Gibson, the Senior Director of Communications at Visit Tucson. “But you can’t right away put up a sign that says grand opening.”
That grand opening will likely not happen until the height of the tourist season in 2022 with the resurgent Gem Show, golf, and rodeo.
But the real test will come before that with the booking of conventions and group travel.
“You’re starting to see those things book,” Gibson said. “I mean they’re getting back on the calendar.”
Convention and group travel is the backbone of the industry but it collapsed during the pandemic, down 85%. That’s a deep hole to dig out of and will take some time.
“I think anybody in any sort of vaguely in a business that has conventions is starting to see those invites come through,” he said.
If it does bounce back, September and October business should be a good indication of how well and how quickly it will recover.
Travel journalists have been booking reservations to Tucson, an indication they are traveling again and will draw attention to the fact Tucson is open for business again and put it top of mind.
But even with some optimism, some serious problems persist especially in terms of workers.
The industry lost half of its workers during the pandemic and they’ve been slow to return.
Hotels and resorts are offering incentives for people to just fill out an application.
The lack of workers is also affecting the vacancy rate at some hotels which are holding back rentable rooms because there are not enough people to staff them.
The vacancy rate in Tucson is hovering around 48% according to state statistics.
“I know of properties that have reduced their the number of rooms they are selling because they just don’t feel like they can give people good service,” he said. “So it is always that balance of trying to keep a rate that’s appealing to people, but also selling enough rooms that you know makes sense.”
Another issue that’s causing a slow turnaround is the lack of Mexican tourism, which is a significant part of the tourist trade here.
“The Department of Homeland Security says the cross-border travel restrictions will stay in effect until June 21, 2021.
“It doesn’t mean there aren’t some people that are able to travel back and forth,” he said. “But the large-scale entry from Mexico is still a challenge.”
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