Hospitality Strong

September 14, 2020Nanci Liles, Executive Director of the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau

In nine months, we may see a big baby boom, and 12 years later we will witness the arrival of the quaranteens. A little humor to start off the day!

The serious truth is COVID-19 has abruptly halted a thriving travel industry, but business is slowly starting to rebound. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently reported a small uptick in air travel, up five percent from last month but still down 69 percent from 2019.

To put this in perspective, March 2020 started with 2.2 million daily travelers to an industry-wide low of 87,534 on April 14. The good news is a large majority of air passengers (86 percent) say they were satisfied with safety protocols while flying. Data also shows that once travelers get out, they feel better about planning to do it again.

At the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB), COVID-19 cancellations now stand at 167 groups postponing or canceling meetings and events. The result is a loss of $13.9 million revenue for local business and venues.

But we are seeing improvement. Abilene hotels experienced a 55 percent drop in revenue in April but have been welcoming back more guests each month.  July occupancy was down 25 percent.

This aligns with the national data. COVID-19 Travel Sentiment based on independent, unbiased research from Destination Analysts, shows consumer attitudes toward tourism are slightly improving. Most American travelers say they plan to get out, but most plan to wait until May 2021. Business travelers say they are not likely to travel until after January, with the most saying they won’t travel until after April 2021. Millennials are the most eager to get out, while Baby Boomers are the most likely to stay home.

Potential travelers currently report they prefer destinations where masks are required. Safety is still top of mind, and almost 70 percent say they research safety regulations in the places they plan to visit. Websites are the top sources to gather information, followed by the opinions of friends and family, visitor guides and social media and other sources.

Despite these improvements, the impact of this pandemic will be felt for quite some time.  More than half of potential travelers say they will not travel until the pandemic is “over,” while 42 percent of respondents say they will not travel until there is a vaccine.

But Texas and Abilene are in a good position to recover. Road trips are popular. People are traveling to destinations closer to home. They prefer outdoor activities. Surveys show 35 percent of Americans took one or two trips this summer for personal and leisure reasons, and more than 10 percent of those travelers came to Texas.

Abilenians are creative and resourceful. Local champion Rochelle Johnson, Taylor County Expo Center General Manager, is Abilene’s rock star for re-imagining events. She has worked with planners throughout the past six months to continue to host events safely, and her efforts have helped Abilene hotels, restaurants, attractions, and other local businesses.

At the Taylor County Expo Center, they have implemented safety measures to allow Abilene to host the West Texas Fair & Rodeo this year, and they’ve given locals, out-of-town guests, livestock exhibitors, vendors and musicians an opportunity to visit Abilene and regain a bit of normalcy. Cheers to that!

We encourage you to get out and support these efforts. Let’s stay #abilenestrong. Travel matters to Abilene’s economy.



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