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Trends New Winter Records in Occupancy and Rate for Southeast Lodging Properties (Strength continuing into summer months)

St Simons Island Pier

photo of the author Katie Barnes

While the global tourism industry has struggled mightily for the past year as the world grappled with the coronavirus pandemic, participating resort properties in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina set new all-time records for winter occupancy, rates, and revenue as they wrapped up their winter season as of Feb. 28.  The results were released yesterday by DestiMetrics,* a division of Vermont-based Inntopia in their monthly Market Briefing that tracks year-over-year comparisons for each month of the previous year. The summary includes comparisons to the same time last year.

Results for participating properties in the Southeast for the full winter season measured from September 2020 through February 2021 were impressive—especially in comparison to many other tourism regions around the U.S. and the world. For the six-month season, actual occupancy was up 3.3 percent compared to the same period last year—boosted primarily by exceptional gains of 36.8 percent for the month of September which cemented a strong foundation for the start of the winter season. Occupancy during October and December were also up and helped buoy the winter season to its record level despite moderate declines in November, January, and February.

More impressively for the winter season, the Average Daily Rate (ADR) surged an aggregated 23.2 percent compared to the previous winter to deliver a 27.2 percent increase in revenue for the winter.

However, aggregated occupancy for the single month of February lagged and was down 15.8 percent compared to last February while the Average Daily Rate (ADR) was up an impressive 20.6 percent for the month compared to last February. Despite the notable drop in occupancy, rate strength helped carry the month’s revenues to a slight 1.5 percent gain for the month in the year-over-year comparison.

“The Southeast’s winter season has exceeded all expectations despite a devastating global pandemic, European travel restrictions, and the loss of many Canadian snowbirds due to the closed land border with Canada,” reported Tom Foley, senior vice president for Business Operations and Analytics for Inntopia. “In contrast to much of the U.S. and the globe, the Southeast has been widely open to travel for much of the past year while other destinations have been more cautious about inviting visitors.  As a result, the region has had a unique opportunity to capture destination travelers eager to find a respite from the turbulence of 2020.”

Looking to Summer

Bookings made in February for arrivals within the month and through July are up a dramatic 37.7 percent compared to last year at this time. Booking increases are being reported in all upcoming months with March showing the largest growth with a 58.2 percent increase, but February bookings for arrival in that same month were also up strongly with a 54.4 percent increase in a year-over-year comparison. As of Feb. 28, summer occupancy on-the-books is up 1.2 percent compared to last year at this time with increases in four of the six months. Aggregated daily rates are up a substantial 19.4 percent with increases in all six summer months. The result is an impressive increase in summer revenue of 20.9 percent.

Economic Indicators

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) rose 3.17 percent in February to reach its highest-ever monthly closing as markets reacted positively to declines in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalization as well as positive news about vaccine distribution and economic stimulus legislation. It is 21.7 percent higher than it was at the end of February 2020, a gain attributed somewhat to sharp market declines at the end of February last year. However, the Briefing also reiterated its message that the since mid-summer 2020, over-sold markets continue to discount consumer and employment conditions and are creating some volatility. The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) crept up a cautious 2.2 percent during February but at 91.3 points remains well below its most recent high of 101.4 in October and is dramatically lower than the 132.6 points just one year ago in February 2020. The national Unemployment Rate declined from 6.3 percent in January to 6.2 percent in February and was aided by the addition of 379,000 new jobs that exceeded analysts’ expectations. The vast majority of those positions were in the leisure and hospitality industry as restrictions continued to ease in those sectors.

“In an unprecedented year of upheaval, the Southeast region has defied all odds and expectations this winter to post all-time seasonal highs in occupancy, daily rates, and revenues,” confirmed Foley. “This has been an incredibly successful season, but as more tourism destinations open up or expand their operations as COVID-19 vaccinations increase, the Southeast’s bubble may be challenged as more competitors re-emerge to vie for that pent-up consumer demand. But for now, the region is currently well positioned going into the summer months,” he concluded.


*DestiMetrics, part of the Business Intelligence platform for Stowe-based Inntopia, tracks resort performance in selected mountain and southeast U.S. destinations. They compile forward-looking reservation data each month and provide individualized and aggregated results to subscribers at participating resorts. Data from the Southeast is derived from five resort destinations in three states including South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.


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