The travel, tourism, and hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit in Rhode Island during the COVID-19 outbreak. In the early months of the pandemic, the RI hospitality sector lost 34,400 jobs, roughly two-thirds of the total jobs in this industry. Rhode Island ranked #1 among New England states with the highest percentage of jobs lost in this sector. The recovery of the state was unexpectedly great following government actions, and has recovered about 57% of the total jobs lost since February 2020 in industries including travel, tourism, and hospitality. 

Overall, the impact of the pandemic has resulted in over $500 billion in cumulative losses for the industry nationwide and is expected to have a total of 50 million jobs cut globally. It could take years to bounce back to profitable levels, but the outlook is more positive than negative due to the recovery efforts underway. 

Different Methods of Travel

People traveling by car has already seen recovery from its lows in April of -74% at the same time last year to -19% in December. Although it is still 19% lower than last year’s travel, it is a move in the right direction. More people are choosing to drive instead of fly due to cost, ability to control their situation, and limiting the chance of contracting germs. This has led to more opportunities for money to be retained in the local markets. Below is the 2019-2020 road travel comparison chart from the US Travel Association

People traveling by plane has seen a downturn as well. While driving has recovered to within normal levels, it will take more time to see the air travel industry rebound. During the busy season of travel, flight travelers are down 68% compared to this time last year. There is a long way to go and much of this has to do with government stay-at-home orders, work from home opportunities for those who travel for business, and cheaper and more controlled alternatives. Below is the 2019-2020 flight travel comparison chart from the US Travel Association

Hotels and Lodging

Lodging has been directly impacted by these supporting numbers in regard to travelers. With less flights being taken, fewer hotel rooms are being utilized as a result. Hotel occupancy in December was at 38% compared to 61% in December of 2019. Cities have implemented numerous restrictions making them less realistic as a travel destination. This is reflected in urban hotels suffering a 60% drop in occupancy compared to this time last year. 

Travel is not at the forefront of many American’s minds right now which has resulted in the industry taking such a big hit. 55% of Americans polled by the US Travel Association would feel guilty traveling right now which has resulted in two-thirds of Americans pushing their plans off to at least Q2 of 2021. With the vaccine being more readily available, this will significantly improve the chances of someone traveling in the US. 75% of Americans expect to attend in-person meetings in 2021 and 24% of Americans plan to attend a convention or conference. Both numbers have been rising in recent weeks which shows the optimism of the industry returning to profitable levels over the next few years. 

Direct Impact

How does this impact Rhode Island? Due to more travelers choosing to drive, the hospitality industry should direct their focus to more regional clients as they are far more likely to come to the state compared to distant travelers. They need to make sure their target markets include travelers who are driving long distances and local businesses so they can continue to nurture tourism.

For information on how to structure your marketing around the trends in the hospitality industry, read our Marketing Toolkit to Recover from COVID-19 for Travel, Tourism, & Hospitality Companies.