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COVID-19 blamed for slow tourism numbers along the Gulf coast


Gulf coast tourism officials say COVID-19 and lingering damage from Hurricane Sally have seen bookings drop. This follows record business last year. Thousands of retirees avoid the northern cold by spending the winter on Alabama beaches. They’re often called snowbirds, but this year fewer are flying south.

“Last year was a record year. This year is obviously pacing behind that because of the COVID concerns,” says Kay Maghan, public relations manager for Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism. She says tourist numbers may pick up later in the winter, but visitors aren’t getting out to local businesses.

"It’s a little bit lower than the year prior, but with the vaccines coming out, there could be some wiggle room,” she said. “People may feel more comfortable traveling, but those that do come in January, February, we expect that they likely won’t be out and about and as active as they were. Or as active as they normally were because a lot of times the snowbird clubs most of them have canceled all their social gatherings they do.”

Summer was a good season on the coast this year. School was out for a month longer than usual and many families flocked to the coast. But winter tourists are often northern retirees and some of those snowbirds aren’t migrating south this year. COVID-19 is one reason, but some condos and beach houses are still being repaired after Hurricane Sally. Residents noticed hints that things are different, like restaurant hours.

“Just noticing kind of a tell-tail sign, a lot of our restaurants are closing a little earlier than normal,” said Maghan. “You’ve got restaurants closing at 8 or 8:30 where normally they’re open until 9 or 10."

She says that while winter may be slower than last year, there are signs that the rest of 2021 could be better. "

Let’s get repairs from Sally done and people are not coming like they normally do, but we hope that the vaccine and some travel or sentiment studies that we have access to that were done on a national level that we think spring and summer could really be significant.”

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