The return of cruise liners, European travelers and rising gas prices are among the factors Newport’s tourism board is looking at to predict how summer 2022 will impact the city’s hospitality and restaurant sectors.
In preparation for the upcoming tourism season, Discover Newport, the tourism board for Newport and Bristol counties, discussed travel expectations for the year at their March board meeting.
Discover Newport Executive Director Evan Smith said Europe’s lifted travel ban spells good and bad news for Newport’s tourism and hospitality sectors. Smith said American travelers who typically travel to Europe over the summer were more likely to visit Newport while Europe’s borders were still closed, meaning those travelers may choose to return to Europe this year now that the borders are open. At the same time, European travelers may choose to visit Newport now that they are able to travel to the states again.
Relatedly, both cruise liners and motor coaches have reopened business lines to Newport. Smith said there are already around five or six days this summer with double cruise ship visits to Newport Harbor. He said the city should expect even more as cruise ship dates are announced.
Over the course of 2021’s post-quarantine tourism boom, Smith said many tourists came to Newport via car from nearby states as air travel became more restricted and less favorable. The number of transactions on Pell Bridge in 2021 became closer and closer to the number of transactions conducted in 2019 as the year went on. By November, the number of transactions conducted on the bridge was within 2% of the number from 2019.
The first two months of 2022 also saw more Pell Bridge transactions than in 2021, coming even closer to the visitation rates of 2019.
According to figures presented at the meeting, 627,662 vehicles passed through the Jamestown toll booths in January 2022, with another 668,286 in February. In comparison, 796,940 traveled through the booths in January 2020 and 785,813 in February, just before the pandemic began.
Rising gas prices, however, could pose an issue for those growing numbers, Smith said. Similarly, the high price point of Newport hotels and experiences could affect visitation.
Last year, hotels generated a significant amount of revenue compared to 2020 and 2019 thanks to an increase in room rates as well as overall stays. About 91% of the Discover Newport budget is generated through state hotel taxes. Predicting visitation rates similar to 2020, the Discover Newport board decided to budget conservatively for 2021, earning them $1 million in unexpected revenue through the state hotel taxes generated from the 2021 summer tourism boom.
Smith said they are hoping to better predict travel trends when composing next year’s budget, which will be developed in May and take effect on July 1 of this year.