Travel and Tourism Predicted to Improve in Pittsburgh This Year, but Challenges Remain

There are glimmers of hope for the restaurant scene, but no business impacted by the pandemic is is out of the woods just yet.
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The answer to what the future looks like depends on who you ask these days. Industries like travel and dining have been among the hardest hit by wave after wave of COVID-19, and local trends have reflected a national struggle to stay afloat.

But VisitPittsburgh is cautiously optimistic that travel to the Pittsburgh region could end 2022 close to pre-pandemic levels, according to a press release.

Adam Sacks, president of tourism economics, shared research regarding travel and tourism with members of Pittsburgh’s hospitality community at VisitPittsburgh’s 2022 State of the Travel Industry, held last Wednesday at the National Aviary’s Garden Room.

According to Sacks, hotel occupancy throughout Allegheny County is forecasted to reach an average of 63% in 2022 — a growth of 28% from 2021 levels. Additionally, ADR — the average daily rate of a hotel room — is forecasted to average $120, a growth of 5% from 2021. 

Hotel room revenue is expected to grow 30% year over year, reaching $521 million by year-end, which is just 10% below 2019 levels. 

He also said that Tourism Economics forecasts visitor spending throughout Allegheny County to reach $6.1 billion in 2022, which is just 7% short of the $6.5 billion reached in 2019. Additionally, the tourism sector is anticipating a gain of 4,600 jobs — a 12% increase — compared to 2021. 

“The travel and tourism economy across Allegheny County reached record highs in 2019,” VisitPittsburgh president and CEO Jerad Bachar said in a statement. “The outlook Adam provided … is certainly what our community is looking forward to after a tough two years.”

Data from the Allegheny County Airport Authority seems to support this upward trend, too.

In a Jan. 3 article from Blue Sky News, the Airport Authority’s official news source, the number of airline passengers nationwide trended up in 2021, and experts say industry data points to continued recovery in the new year.

Counts from the Transportation Security Administration show a notable dip in travelers passing through TSA checkpoints in March 2020, when the coronavirus first appeared in the U.S. But since then, data shows a slow yet persistent recovery; passenger counts in 2021 steadily approached 2019 numbers until dropping off at the end of the year, likely because of the COVID surge caused by the omicron variant. 

Further, Airport Authority data shows that scheduled seats at Pittsburgh International Airport in the first quarter of 2022 demonstrate an increase that approaches pre-pandemic figures. Airlines have been adding capacity back into the market, too, after an initial decline in 2020.

More seats mean more flights, more destinations and larger airplanes to take more passengers there.

The airport also saw an increase of travelers for the 2021 holiday season compared to 2020, and while figures still lagged behind 2019, Pittsburgh International Airport saw even bigger increases in year-over-year holiday travel compared to the national trend. 

“More than 160,000 passengers went through the checkpoint during the two-week holiday rush. That’s up 90% over a year ago but, similar to national figures, down about 21% from 2019,” wrote Bob Kerlick for Blue Sky News on Jan. 14.

Last year, British Airways also announced that nonstop service to London will return to Pittsburgh International Airport this summer after having been suspended since March 2020.

The airport also said there were economic benefits to the move, alluding to a 2019 economic impact study, which found that the British Airways flight was expected to contribute more than $50 million annually to Pittsburgh’s regional economy.

Allegiant also recently resumed year-round service to Melbourne, Fla. in November, and Southwest resumed Cancun service on Jan. 22.

“There’s incredible optimism for a sustained and strengthening rebound for the county’s tourism economy,” Bachar said. 

There are also “bright spots” in the future for the local restaurant industry, but with a seemingly endless virus as unpredictable as COVID-19, the industry is not out of the woods yet.

A few new openings are slated for this winter, according to Pittsburgh Magazine Dining Critic Hal B. Klein. These include big Burrito’s Alta Via Pizzeria in Bakery Square and Give & Go Market + Sandwiches, a Bloomfield sandwich shop from the owners of Baby Loves Tacos.

DiAniona’s Eatery in the Strip District is also bringing back breakfast and lunch service, and Downtown’s Meat & Potatoes is reopening next month to coincide with the “Hamilton” tour.

But the omicron surge hit at a bad time; the holiday season is a critical point for many eateries. When omicron forced closures or reductions in service, many businesses and workers missed out on key financial periods, which meant many have started the year off in less-than-ideal positions.

The Allegheny County Health Department reported last week that, if international data foreshadows similar trends in the U.S., case counts may soon decrease as the omicron surge plateaus. 

“We remain amid the omicron surge that started in mid-December, where we saw an initial dramatic jump from 100s to 1000s of cases a day,”said Debra Bogen, director of the Health Department, in a press briefing last Wednesday. “However, if we follow the pattern of others around the country and the world, I hope that this plateauing of cases over the past 10 days portend the impending decline other regions have experienced.”

Even if this is the case, there are still challenges ahead for the travel and hospitality industry — and consumers, too.

Staffing shortages, the rising cost of goods and impending inflation have all made things more difficult throughout multiple sectors. 

Richard Rattner, owner of the William Penn Tavern in Shadyside, told Pittsburgh Magazine last week that many restaurant owners are struggling with a so-called “new economy.” 

“The price of liquor, the price of beer, everything has gone up except for the price of goods sold,” he said.

The high fees of delivery apps — as high as 35%, if not more — have also been a burden to restaurant owners already struggling to rake in a profit, especially as apps like GrubHub and UberEats continue to grow in popularity. 

Categories: The 412