The neighboring Florida cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg had the highest average hotel occupancy rate of any major U.S. travel market in 2020, according to global hospitality benchmarking firm STR, as Americans appeared to ditch major tourism destinations during the Covid-19 pandemic in favor of smaller cities and warmer climates more conducive to social distancing, though travel was significantly down nationwide.
At 51%, Tampa and St. Petersburg had the highest average occupancy rate between January and November of any of STR’s top 25 U.S. travel markets.
Phoenix was in second place at 50.3% average occupancy, followed by San Diego (50.0%), Los Angeles (49.9%) and Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia (49.8%).
The least-busy hotels were in markets with colder climates: Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota and Wisconsin had the lowest occupancy rate (34.1%), followed by Boston (35.6%) and Chicago (36.2%).
The busiest hotel market last year was New York City, with 86% average occupancy between January and November 2019 (during the same period this year occupancy was 47.4%), followed by Oahu, Hawaii, at 84.2% (now 40.8%) and San Francisco at 82.9% (now 43%), while Tampa only had 72.6% occupancy last year.
Florida “never really shut[ting] things down” likely helped Tampa’s popularity and the ability to successfully promote the travel destination without interruptions, Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada told Forbes, though the tourism promoter’s marketing emphasized the city’s commitment to safety and “safe, pristine, open air opportunities.”
Tampa and St. Petersburg were busier than better-known Florida destinations Miami and Orlando (which had 46.2% and 41.8% occupancy, respectively), which Corrada said was likely helped by the area not feeling “crowded” and “over-touristy to the point where you can’t enjoy yourself and feel safe.”
Though Florida faced a major spike in Covid-19 cases over the summer that attracted nationwide attention, Corrada said that since hitting a low point of approximately 22% occupancy in April, Tampa Bay’s hotels have seen “month after month of improvement.” Hotels got more crowded each month, Corrada said, even when Florida faced coronavirus surges.
43.6%. That was the average hotel occupancy rate for all top 25 U.S. travel markets between January and November, according to STR, versus 74% during the same period in 2019. Travel markets beyond the top 25 areas fared slightly better, at an average occupancy rate of 45.2%, and the average occupancy rate in the U.S. overall was 44.7%, as compared to 67.1% in 2019.
Tourism has been among the industries worst-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the United Nations projecting in August that the industry faces a $1 trillion loss worldwide with more than 100 million jobs at risk. The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) asserted in December that 71% of hotels will not be able to last six months at their current occupancy levels without government assistance. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that Americans avoid travel due to the pandemic if possible and should take a number of considerations into account before hitting the road, including their risk of Covid-19 complications, travel restrictions, how high Covid-19 cases are in their area and whether they’ll be able to social distance while traveling.
What To Watch For
Corrada expects Tampa Bay will remain relatively popular through the end of the year and winter, saying that recent weekend hotel occupancy rates have even been “almost normal.” The travel industry more broadly is facing a less sunny outlook, however, with a November Morning Consult survey commissioned by AHLA finding 44% of respondents think their next hotel stay for leisure or vacation won’t be for at least another year. While the Covid-19 vaccine rollout will likely help boost the hotel industry by the second half of 2021, STR predicted in August that it won’t be until 2023 or 2024 that the industry fully rebounds.