As COVID restrictions lift, lawmakers hope for increased tourism

As COVID-19 restrictions loosen nationwide, many Americans are looking for a vacation – now. As always, the islands are a popular choice. We talk with lawmakers from some of the top tourist states and territories to see what they are expecting this year.

Before the pandemic, tourism was the largest driver of Hawaii’s private sector economy. In 2019, visitors would spend an average of $48.6 million per day, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

So far this year, U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) says the results are mixed.

“If you’re talking about domestic tourism, which is tourism from the rest of the United States, that’s coming along very, very well,” Case said.

But Case is noticing a decline in international travel, which makes up a significant chunk of the state’s tourism industry. The number of tourists visiting from places like japan and the European Union have been slower to increase. Those who are visiting face stricter COVID restrictions returning home.

“That’s going to take a far greater sense of safety and security, internationally, before that travel starts to come back,” Case said.

Meanwhile, the cruise ship industry – hit hard during the pandemic – is set to resume this summer. This week, Carnival Cruise Lines will require passengers to be fully vaccinated when sailings resume out of Galveston, Texas in July.

U.S. delegates in the Caribbean are hoping the return will boost their local economy.

“We’re continuing to see yachts, the boating industry coming down as well as individual tourists,” explained Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands).

More than 3 million tourists visit the Virgin Islands each year, most from cruise ships. Tourism, trade, and related services account for nearly 60 percent of all the territory’s economic activity, according to Moody’s Analytics.

“Although we have not had all of our hotels back online, particularly on St. Thomas, people have done the best that they can,” Plaskett said.

From the Pacific to the Atlantic, it’s a slow but steady return as the summer tourism season begins heating up once again.