Recent lifting of travel restrictions on Californians allow getaways — but are you ready to take a vacation?
Dreaming of a beach-side vacation or want to get cozy in a cabin tucked in the snow-covered mountains? How about a camping trip, a way to get away out in nature?
The recent lifting of the state’s stay-at-home orders last week means travel restrictions have eased – much like the struggling restaurant industry, there were hotels and vacation rental operators that adhered strictly to regulations during the stay-at-home orders and others not so closely – but uncertainty and questions remain about whether people are ready to pack their bags, how vacationers want to travel and if the travel industry can rebound after a turbulent year.
This week, many campgrounds are reopening after nearly two months of closures and the hotel industry is getting a surge of people booking stays.
“It’s definitely good news, I think that there’s a lot of pent-up demand out there, just for people to get out of their house,” said Lynn Mohrfeld, president and CEO of the California Hotel & Lodging Association. “Everyone has been cooped up for a year.”
But the latest lifting of the stay-at-home order doesn’t mean travel is completely unrestricted.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health still has a 10-day quarantine requirement for many people traveling into town, including residents coming home.
The order does not apply to people coming from other Southern California regions such as Orange County or the Inland Empire – all part of efforts asking people to help limit the virus’s spread by staying close to home, or within 120 miles.
“A lot of hotels are taking it slow and not casting their marketing net too far, just yet,” Mohrfeld said. “It’s a pandemic, so people want do to the right thing. But on the flip side, the visitors are going to do what they do, at this point.”
The good thing for California residents is they can go anywhere within 120 miles and find a nice hotel to stay at, he noted.
So far, from booking stats, it appears most people are opting for weekend trips or are making plans for further out in August and September, Mohrfeld said.
“We’re seeing those two different things, we’re not seeing anything in the middle,” he said.
There’s are some other restrictions to still take into account if you’re traveling further away from home.
Mammoth Mountain, hit hard with recent snowfall that’s drawing snowboarders and skiers to the resort town, has a 60% occupancy limit on hotels.
Santa Clara County also has a mandatory 10-day quarantine for travelers coming in from places more than 150 miles away. San Francisco has a rule that anyone from the Bay Area can stay at hotels there, but if you’re an outsider, you have to quarantine for 10 days and have a minimum reservation for 10 days, Mohrfeld said.
Camping continues to be a popular option, with people wanting to be out in the open air, with their own groups, by pitching tents or isolating in their recreational vehicles.
Last week, the State Parks system reopened some campgrounds to existing reservation holders, while others are slotted to be open this week.
The Crystal Cove cottages, one of the most in-demand “campgrounds” in the State Parks system, are opening on Feb. 2, and Kate Wheeler, CEO of the Crystal Cove Conservancy, said she’s “thrilled.”
Walking around the historic homes recently has felt like a “ghost town,” she said.
Getting a cottage at Crystal Cove has never been easy, they are almost always sold out for the six months ahead allowed for booking. An online search of ReserveCalifornia.com, the state’s booking system, shows every night from now through August already gobbled up.
“I think with the cottages, they are self contained. People can really go have that respite, a real getaway,” Wheeler said. “I think they are more coveted than they’ve ever been. They all have a little deck and outdoor space.”
Wheeler offered a little insider secret: More cancellations happen on weekdays during the rainy season. At 11 a.m. each day, if there’s a cancellation, an open cottage goes up for “lottery,” with hopefuls showing up to try and nab a spot.
Leo Carrillo State Beach campgrounds also started accepting walk ups last week, as did Point Mugu and Malibu Creek, said Jerry West, acting district superintendent.
West said some visitors are showing up with their laptops and working remotely from their RVs or campsites.
“A lot of people are posting up and if they have their hot spot and their laptop, they can work from anywhere,” he said.
The US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region announced last week it canceled the remaining closures at its national forests, including in areas of the San Bernardino, Los Padres, Cleveland, Angeles and Inyo national forests in Southern California. OC Parks, which operates county campgrounds in Orange County, has not yet announced an official opening date, but is expected to start taking reservations sometime this week.
At Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, where there are both campsites and cottages for rent, there’s been a “big relief” with the lifting of the latest stay-at-home orders, General Manager Phil Ravenna said.
Since early December, the resort only accepted reservations for essential travel, allowed under the state’s orders.
“The phones were ringing off the hook, everyone re-booking,” he said. “People have really wanted to get out-and-about out of their homes.”
According to a report released by the California Hotel & Lodging Association this week, coronavirus-related lockdowns and travel restrictions in 2020 resulted in the average hotel being more than half empty every night, at about 49% occupancy. Room rates dropped by an average of $40.58 per night.
Conferences, trade shows, corporate meetings and events are major sources of revenues for host cities and local economies.
Shuttering the Anaheim Convention Center equated to about $2.5 billion in losses and the Long Beach Convention Center lost about $1.8 billion. The Los Angeles Convention Center was a loss of $436 million.
The economic fallout from the pandemic was 20% harder on the state’s lodging industry than the Great Depression, previously the worst hit to occupancy rates on record.
More than 20% of all California hotels closed since the pandemic first hit and many hotels struggled with the roller coaster of closing and reopening again.
In a report by the U.S. Travel Association, President and CEO Roger Dow acknowledges the hardships the pandemic has inflicted on travel, but is also optimistic about the prospects for travel’s return.
“Our goal is not simply to recover what we’ve lost, but to rebuild an industry that’s even better positioned than before the crisis – one that’s more globally competitive, more innovative and more unified,” Dow said in a news release.
The coronavirus pandemic is the toughest challenge yet, with some experts predicting it will take five years to recover.
But travel has spurred economic recovery before: after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, following the 2008 financial crisis, after the BP oil spill and after devastating natural disasters, travel helped with recovery, Dow noted.
“Travel defines the American spirit. It inspires our sense of adventure, brings forth our welcoming nature, fulfills our aspirations to connect with the world, and with each other,” he said. “That is a legacy we should not only be proud of … It is a foundation we can build on.”