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COVID-19 did less damage to Alabama tourism compared to most other states

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Officials say tourist spending in Alabama dropped 20% last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state fared better than most during the coronavirus crisis. The Alabama Tourism Department says a travel consulting firm found a nationwide decline of over 40% in travel expenditures. But Alabama's decrease wasn't as bad because spending was robust in Baldwin County—home to beach towns like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Visitors spent more than $13 billion on accommodations, travel, food, shopping and other items in the state in 2020. That's still down from more than $18 billion in 2019.

Perhaps the last big tourism event for Alabama was Spring Break, where fewer students were expected. A number of schools cancelled the annual holiday, while others replaced Spring Break with a mental health day. APR news spoke with Kay Maghan, with the Gulf Coast & Orange Beach Tourism. She says that the trend of cancelling spring break is freeing up limited availability for families.

“In some ways it's maybe almost a blessing right now that the universities have changed their scheduling because we still have about 30 to 40 percent of our vacation rental properties out of inventory because of damage from hurricane Sally,” she said.

Rental occupancy in the gulf, at that time, was still close to what it was before the pandemic hit. Maghan said to APR back in March, that most damaged rentals will be back online by the summer season and that people appear ready to head back to the beach.

“We are optimistic that as more vaccines are happening and people are getting more comfortable with the idea of traveling, that we are anticipating a really good year. There is a lot of pent-up demand of people wanting to get out of their house.”

Around thirty percent of vacation rental properties damaged by hurricane Sally were still unavailable last month. Maghan said that most of these rooms will be online by the summer season.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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