Each May for the past 38 years, National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW) has celebrated the contributions of the travel industry. This May, after travel ground to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are more aware than ever of the incredible value the industry brings not just to our local economy and workforce, but also to our community’s identity and culture.
Residents and visitors alike delight in visits to the Georgia Museum of Art, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, our award-winning parks, eclectic dining scene and, of course, sports and live music. Visitors help support these attractions and hallmarks of our quality of life here in Athens, generating tax revenues and jobs. In order to recover completely from the impact of the pandemic, it is critical for Athens to rebuild its hospitality sector and restore the jobs and economic impact this industry supports.
Before the pandemic, visitors to Athens spent over $350 million per year and supported over 3,000 local jobs. Nationally, travel generated $2.6 trillion in economic output, supported 17 million American jobs and delivered a $51 billion trade surplus to the U.S. in 2019. This vital revenue source stemming from business and leisure travelers was severely diminished amid the pandemic.
In 2020, the entire U.S. travel industry lost half a trillion dollars in travel-related spending—10 times the economic impact of 9/11. Nationally, total travel-supported jobs accounted for a staggering 65% of all U.S. jobs lost amid the pandemic. Our local hotels, restaurants and affiliated businesses were likewise challenged in an unprecedented way. With such a large share of losses borne by the travel industry, it is clear that a broader economic recovery hinges on recovery within the travel industry.
The good news is that travel is resilient. We are already seeing Americans eager to begin traveling again this summer, and meetings and conventions starting to rebook for later this year and into 2022. For local Athens residents looking for work, this is an excellent time, as opportunities of all levels of education and training are plentiful at local hotels, venues and restaurants.
During National Travel and Tourism Week, we salute the dedicated and hard-working management and employees who continue to put in long, hard hours with a skeleton staff. We support those who suffered a job or business loss and are hoping to rebuild. We honor those who stepped up to share what they had with those who were in need. Stories of strength and resilience are all around us.
With the right measures in place, we can get people moving again in a safe and healthy way, restore our workforce and help power a broader economic recovery. The travel industry needs sustained relief to ensure businesses can maintain operation and workers can stay on payrolls until sustained demand can truly take hold. According to industry projections, it may take until 2024 before local hotel average daily room rate recovers to pre-pandemic levels. Those room rates heavily depend upon professional meetings and events, which is a crucial segment of our local economy.
This is the toughest challenge the U.S. travel industry has ever faced, but we know travel is one of the best-equipped industries to lead a revival. Travel’s ability to bounce back after periods of economic hardship—and inject much-needed revenue directly into the economy—is why the theme of this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week is “the Power of Travel.”
Katie Williams is the executive director of the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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