NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — It was a spring full of vaccinations with the hope that leads to a summer packed with vacations.
The season is already shaping up to be a hot one in the Newport area with hotel bookings accelerating and restaurants seeing reservations sometimes weeks in advance.
“Consumer confidence in travel is going up. We knew the first and second quarters would be sluggish but we were optimistic about the third and fourth and we are pleased to see the booking rage meeting or exceeding those projections,” President and CEO of Discover Newport Evan Smith said. “We are excited to see the summer taking shape right now.”
Smith says they are still seeing a strong trend towards people exiting metropolitan areas due to the pandemic and are looking for mountain escapes, the water, and plenty of outdoor activities.
“That is going to be one of the bright spots this year so I have some tips,” Smith said. “If you are planning to travel to Newport, make reservations! It would be sad if you get to where you are going and you can’t get into the attractions you want or reservations at the restaurant you want.”
The majority of Americans surveyed — 60% — have now indicated they feel safe eating and shopping locally, and 53% of adults surveyed felt safe opening up their communities to visitors.
Additionally, 48% of those surveyed said that helping local businesses reopen and recover should be a top priority. With the consumer demand growing, however, the labor shortage across the country is proving to be the next challenge for Newport businesses.
“This year capped by trying to get labor back,” Smith said. “Places like hotels and restaurants, can’t serve now to the capacity they want because they are all starving for help.”
Smith is still hopeful that additional help could be on the way from other parts of the world.
“I think we may start to see some of those J1 international workers coming back from other places after being vaccinated,” he said. “Places like the Cape, here, and Block Island rely on these workers, as high as 50% in some cases, should see some of these workers arriving in July.”
In normal circumstances, cruise ships would arrive in Newport, but after the pandemic kept cruises from sailing, the area lost millions in revenue. Smith says discussions are held daily and the ships are regulated by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is constantly evolving.
“This has to be with the large number of staff on board. Some have 3,000 workers on board and they have to be vaccinated,” Smith said. “Also, what port are they coming from? Because they sail internationally.”
Regionally it appears Rhode Island is trending ahead of other states when it comes to tourism spending.
The latest data from the U.S. Travel indicated that tourism spending is down 24% from March 2019 to March 2021 in the Ocean State compared to the national average of 31%.
Rhode Island is also faring better against states like Connecticut where spending is down 34% in that time period and Massachusetts down 52%.
“We are just so excited to have all of our events back,” Smith said. “We are so happy and looking forward, everyone is excited to be back outdoors again.”