James R. Houston, 2023. “The value and resilience of beach tourism during the COVID pandemic “, Shore & Beach, 91(3), 3-15.
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The value and resilience of beach tourism during the COVID pandemic
James R. Houston
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, 3909 Halls Ferry Road, Vicksburg, MS 39180
The coronavirus disease (COVID) had a greater impact on travel and tourism (T&T) than on any other industry sector, causing the worst downturn in world and U.S. history. The downturn in U.S. T&T caused a $937 billion drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and a 7.1 million job loss in 2020 and a $708 billion GDP drop and 6.3 million job loss in 2021. Trillion dollar government programs saved the sector from complete collapse. Although overall T&T in the U.S. was hard hit in 2020 and did not recover greatly in 2021, beach tourism had a very different response to COVID. Some beaches were closed for months during the first half of 2020, but beach tourism largely recovered by the middle of 2020 as people decided the safest recreation during COVID was outdoors in the sun and fresh air of beaches or parks. Scientists have since come to the same conclusion. The number of international visitors remained low as air transportation remained largely dormant, but the number of domestic tourists going to beaches recovered in 2020 and boomed in 2021 despite the pandemic. Beach tourist spending in 2021 often greatly exceeded pre-pandemic 2019 levels and caused hotel and rental properties to hit capacity limits. The collapse of beach tourism in the first half of 2020, largely due to beach closures, highlighted its value to the economy. The recovery of beach tourism in the second half of 2020 and boom in 2021, despite continued problems in non-beach tourism, demonstrated its resilience. The boom continued in 2022 and 2023.