The Covid-19 pandemic was possibly the worst catastrophe to hit the tourism industry: experts predict that the US alone took a $2 trillion hit in that sector.
But tourism is surging back to pre-pandemic levels and is expected to fully recover by 2027, despite unprecedented levels of street crime and homelessness in some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. “Many people around the world have been stuck at home for a year, 2 years, 3 years; there is definitely a strong will to travel at the moment,” said Dr. Frederic Dimanche, Director of Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Toronto Metropolitan University.
People are done with cabin fever. Borders and hotels are open; and tourists are returning to the Caribbean, Great Britain, and Europe. “People are experiencing a hunger for travel like we have never seen before,” he said at an Ethnic Media Services news briefing June 23.
At the same time, travel costs have gone up dramatically. Airline tickets and hotel rates are up and inflation has also increased consumer prices. “It seems like everybody’s trying to catch up on the lost revenues of the Covid times,” said Dimanche.
But wildfires in Canada, Australia, and California — as well in Spain and Southern France — are putting a damper on international tourism. There are more tropical storms and hurricanes and more floods in Germany and Italy. Global warming is impacting tourism in many countries, he said. And the ongoing war in Ukraine has restricted tourists from Russia and Eastern Europe. Chinese tourists are not traveling abroad as much as they used to either, said Dimanche.
Iuliana Popa, a doctoral student in the Conrad Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership at the University of Houston noticed a troubling trend as Covid-19 vaccine rollouts began in 2021. Although many workers had been laid off, once those jobs returned to the industry, many of those workers didn’t come back.
Hard-Hit Hospitality Workers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hospitality industry lost nearly 8 million hospitality jobs were lost, making it the hardest-hit industry in the U.S. by the pandemic in terms of workforce reduction.
Popa and Dr. Juan Madera, the Curtis L. Carlson endowed professor at Hilton College, wanted to explore the phenomenon of hospitality workers not returning to their jobs.
“So we designed a study where we specifically wanted to focus on the emotions of fear and anger that hospitality employees might have experienced in response to having been laid off amid all the uncertainty right after COVID-19,” Popa said.
“We wanted to evaluate to what extent they would experience fear or anger in response to this COVID-19 scenario presented to them, and what we found was that anger was a very significant predictor of their intentions to change their career.”
Popa and fellow researchers gathered data from 300 participants and conducted a hundred online surveys from workers who had been sidelined by the pandemic.
This “turnover-intention” continues to impact the industry, she said.. Employers responded by increasing wages — which are now about $15/hr — but even with a base wage double the federal minimum wage, the industry is having trouble attracting workers. Many people who once worked part time hours with tips can’t make it without a full-time job with better pay and health benefits, said Popa.
City By the Bay
Cassandra Costello, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy and External Affairs Officer, San Francisco Travel Association says the beautiful City by the Bay is “as vibrant as ever.”
“It’s the time to visit to experience our neighborhoods, our culture, and our culinary scene. There’s strong demand, both domestically and internationally, and we are a safe welcoming city ready for visitors,” she said.
Costello noted the city will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in November 2023 at the Moscone Center. APEC meetings are intergovernmental forums between industry and political leaders from 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. San Francisco will also host the Superbowl and the World Cup in 2026.
While tourism from China is down, travelers from India, Europe, Canada, and Mexico are making up the gap. India is the largest emerging market, said Costello. While international tourists are just 29% of all tourists traveling to San Francisco, they make up 62% of the spend, due to longer stays.
Is New York Dead?
If the positively sunny Costello has a nay-saying nemesis it could be New York native James Altucher. He is the author of a best-selling Wall Street Journal book, “Choose Yourself” and since 2014 has produced a top-rated podcast of the same name. It has millions of listeners. In August 2020, Altucher wrote an article called “New York City is Dead Forever.”
He wrote the piece because New York City was facing serious threats with the pandemic and lockdowns, and said it still hasn’t recovered.
“Some of the consequences of those issues are going to be around for a very long time, if not, as I mentioned in the article, forever,” said Altucher. He noted that New York City’s population has dropped almost a million while homelessness is at the highest level since 1931 during the Great Depression.
With lower taxes, better weather, and cheaper living, other states like Texas and Florida have benefited. Overall this has been a good thing for the country because opportunity isn’t just found in one or two cities. But it’s been bad for New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and other big cities, said Altucher.