TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. — Georgia’s travel industry made a huge comeback this year, despite the pandemic, according to state officials, making for one of the few upbeat economic stories from the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.
Over much of the past year, beach houses and condos booked quickly and filled up at a higher rate in the mostly sleepy beach town of Tybee Island. It's been delightful news for Keith Gay who runs Tybee Beach Vacation Rentals, a company that manages 200 vacation rentals on the island.
"It was an unusual year. 2020 was above average, and 2021 is a banner year," he said.
With outdoorsy, socially distant destinations from the coast to the north Georgia mountains, and even the Okefenokee swamp – Georgia’s travel industry thrived during the pandemic, according to state and travel industry data.
State officials say among the 50 states, Georgia was fifth in the nation in 2020 for domestic overnight trips – up from 7th in 2019. In June 2021, Longwoods International says Georgia travel expenditures rose by 58% over June 2020. Additionally, the state says tourism was worth $53.72 billion in 2020.
"Bookings were vigorous," said Gay, who adds that vigor has lasted into the Labor Day weekend. "In a lot of cases, they were booked elbow to elbow. There was very little open inventory."
He added that Tybee benefited from the shutdown of the cruise industry and restrictions on overseas travel to places like Europe and Asia, reducing competition for the Georgia coastal town.
However, Gay says while the surge in travel has driven up prices, Tybee's hospitality industry has struggled with labor shortages.
When the pandemic ends, he expects the Georgia travel boom to subside, as travelers start going overseas and on cruises again instead of close-to-home places like Tybee Island.