Never mind the sky-high gasoline prices and airfares, people will come on Memorial Day weekend — kicking off what travel and tourism officials expect to be a hot summer.
Visitors’ bureaus in Florida are seeing record room bookings this spring. Many flights already are fully booked for the summer kickoff holiday weekend and beyond, and AAA is forecasting the most robust travel since at least before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By the looks of this Memorial Day travel forecast, the summer travel season is off to a sizzlin’ start,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA — The Auto Club Group.
“People are more comfortable traveling now than any other time in the past two years, and travel bookings are a reflection of that. Reservations for flights, hotels, and cruises for Memorial Day weekend are twice as strong as last year’s holiday and that momentum will likely carry into the summer.”
AAA predicts nearly 2.2 million Floridians will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend. That’s an 8.3% increase over 2021. The total still is below the 2.3 million seen for Memorial Day in 2019 but brings travel volumes almost in line with those from 2017. Another 181,000 Floridians will fly on Memorial Day weekend, and another 43,000 will travel by bus, train or cruise line.
But the real action may be for incoming travelers. Florida is hot already, visitors’ bureaus say.
Citing Key Data Dashboard, VISIT FLORIDA reported occupancy at vacation rental properties across Florida is booked at 64%. That’s up 10 points from 2019. Room rates also are up, about 50% from 2019 and 19% from 2021.
In Tampa Bay, VISIT Tampa Bay says they’re seeing record bookings in recent months and for Memorial Day weekend. The Memorial Day weekend traffic will be bolstered by two big events, including the United Bikerz Jamboree.
Traffic also is bolstered by big demand for what Tampa Bay and Florida have to offer visitors, said Santiago Corrada, President of VISIT Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay has been seeing hotel occupancy rates over 80%.
“Since last April we have been surpassing — every month — pre-pandemic numbers,” Corrada said. “Right now, we have some of the highest occupancy rates we’ve ever seen.”
“It’s not slowing down,” he added.
Visit Orlando’s experience has been similar, recording a hotel occupancy rate of 83% in March and 79% in April.
“Memorial Day weekend is expected to be a strong kick off to the summer travel season,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO for Visit Orlando.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is cautioning about busy airports.
“Daily passenger volumes at TSA checkpoints show that people are traveling again, and TSA is ready for their return,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a news release.
Orlando International Airport is projecting air passenger traffic well above last year’s levels, but not quite at the record levels seen in 2019, before the pandemic. For example, for Saturday the airport is projecting 67,900 passengers, up from 59,691 that came through the airport on the same Saturday last year. But it’s not quite at the level of the 68,647 seen on the Saturday of the 2019 Memorial Day weekend.
“Traditionally, Memorial Day has not been the busiest travel period at Orlando International, however, we are staffing up and are prepared for more passengers this year than usual,” said Kevin Thibault, chief executive officer of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. “If you are planning to travel, please give yourself plenty of extra time to navigate through the parking, check-in and security processes.”
AAA is projecting Orlando will be the nation’s top destination this summer, followed by Seattle and then Miami.
WalletHub is ranking Orlando as this summer’s best destination choice, followed by Washington and then Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater.