Vacation travel and tourism in 2021 set new records, local industry leaders say

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The holiday season has drawn many tourists to the Savannah area, both on the roads and in the sky. Local tourism leaders said 2021 ended as one of the strongest years on record for visitor numbers and spending.

Officials at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport predict the wave of vacation travel will be over now, but have seen 38,000 travelers in the five days surrounding Christmas. Last year, they were just 17,000 for those same five days, officials said.

This year’s vacation trips have been plagued by thousands of cancellations and flight delays across the country. Airport officials said they average five to eight cancellations per day.

“What we are seeing is that they are equal when it comes to weather and crew,” said Lori Lynah, director of marketing. “Some flights are going to be canceled simply because of weather issues and passengers are being rerouted either way.”

For those still traveling in and out of the region, Lynah recommends keeping in touch with your airline and providing them with the best contact information so that you can be notified as soon as possible if your flight changes.

Lynah said vacation travel was also up slightly from 2019, an increase of around 10%. From Thanksgiving to New Years, executives say the busiest time for tourists was the week after Christmas.

“Once COVID arrived and people stemmed the demand and the fatigue from COVID, and then vaccinations started to increase, they wanted to go to sunny places, to beaches and to the outdoors.” said Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah. “Savannah and Tybee Island both offer this.”

The increase in the number of tourists is good news for the local hotel industry, which has all been affected during the height of the pandemic.

“The most important thing is that people get back to work,” Marinelli said. “A lot of people have lost their jobs temporarily or permanently because of the pandemic and we are seeing a lot of those jobs coming back now.”

Marinelli said the holiday season usually generates significant traffic, but peak tourist season won’t arrive until spring and fall. He expects the industry to continue its momentum through 2022, as business and international travel begins to rebound.

“This will be a year of growth for the industry,” Marinelli said. “The good news is that we are a leisure travel destination, so we will continue to be strong there. “

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