Business Travel Slumps, But Leisure Lifts Sarasota

Todays News

Photo courtesy Westin

The hospitality industry in Florida expects to take a major hit in a loss of business travel thanks to a surge in coronavirus cases here. But at least in Sarasota, that loss is more than offset by a rise in recreational visitors.

“Sarasota is a little different than many areas of the state because it has always been dominated by leisure travel,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota.

That’s good right now considering the enduring impact of COVID-19 on business trips and conventions. A new survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found the hospitality industry nationwide will take a $30.1-billion hit in 2021 from a loss in business travel compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Florida will suffer a $5.3-billion loss in that travel sector this calendar year.

“While leisure travel returned this year – in some regions higher than even 2019’s record figures – business travel still remains down overall, and Florida is projected to end 2021 with the second highest losses in the nation, behind only the state of California,” said Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

One of those areas doing well is Sarasota County. Already this fiscal year, which ends in October, the county has collected $27.6 million in tourist development taxes. That’s a record amount. In all of the 2019 fiscal year, the county collected under $23.4 million. In fiscal year 2020, when COVID-19 hit the state halfway through and largely shut the travel industry down, just under $21.1 million was collected.

Reopening travel options domestically helped the industry bounce back, but Haley said all realize the boom in domestic travel is not sustainable, and there remain major holes in the hospitality economy. Business and group travel to the region indeed has affected hotels, which rely on that predictable traffic particularly to fill rooms on weeknights.

While a surge in coronavirus infections in Florida as delta variant cases spike has not diminished leisure travel, Haley said, it has stopped any return in business retreats and convention bookings.

Additionally, international travel remains locked down. Sarasota historically has enjoyed steady visitation from overseas with Canada as a No. 1 international market, followed by the United Kingdom. But visitation from both those nations remains completely closed off. Overseas visitors typically stay for longer periods of time in Florida hotels and spend more each day while here.

“Leisure does seem to be carrying the industry for now,” Haley said. “My hope is that the borders would open, especially Canada and the U.K., so that as leisure starts to level off, we’d have that start to pick up.”

 

Photo courtesy Westin

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