Holiday travel and 2021 tourism sets new records, local industry leaders say

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The holiday season brought many tourists into the Savannah area, both on the roads and in the sky. Local tourism leaders said 2021 ended as one of the strongest years on record for visitor numbers and spending.

Officials at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport anticipate the holiday travel wave to be done with now but saw 38,000 travelers in the five days surrounding Christmas. Last year, it was just 17,000 for those same five days, officials said.

This year’s holiday travel was plagued by thousands of flight cancellations and delays nationwide. Airport officials here said they’re averaging anywhere from five to eight cancellations a day.

“What we’re seeing is that they’re equal weather and crew,” said marketing director Lori Lynah. “There are some flights that are going to be canceled just because of weather issues and passengers are being re-routed in both cases.”

For those still traveling in and out of the area, Lynah recommends staying in touch with your airline and providing them with the best contact information so you can be informed as soon as possible if there are changes to your flight.

Lynah said holiday travel was slightly up from 2019 as well, about a 10% increase. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, leaders say the busiest time for tourists was the week after Christmas.

“Once COVID happened and people had pent up demand and COVID fatigue, and then the vaccinations started to increase, they wanted to go to places with sunshine and beaches and outdoors,” said Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah. “Savannah and Tybee Island both offer that.”

The increase in tourists is welcome news for the local hospitality industry, which all took a hit at the height of the pandemic.

“The most important thing is that we have people getting back to work again,” Marinelli said. “A lot of people lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently as a result of the pandemic and we see a lot of those jobs coming back now.”

Marinelli said the holiday season typically brings in strong traffic, but the peak tourist season won’t come until spring and fall. He expects the industry to keep on its upward track through 2022 as business and international travel start to bounce back.

“This will be a growth year for the industry,” Marinelli said. “The good news is we are a leisure travel destination so we’ll continue to be strong there.”

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