By Odin Rasco
As the world rushed to adopt measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in early 2020, one of the first decisions many countries made was to severely limit travel. Countries have closed their borders, banned international and domestic flights and encouraged residents to take refuge in their homes.
A year has now passed, and businesses in Sacramento that depend on travel for their survival are only starting to see trends that suggest a return to “normalcy.”
Sacramento airports had a total of 1,047,798 passengers in March 2019; in March 2020, Sacramento airports saw passenger numbers drop by more than 49%, to just 527,890 people, according to reports from the Sacramento County Airport System. In March 2021, a year after the first wave of travel restrictions, traffic at Sacramento airports had increased only 9.3% from last March, still well below pre-pandemic figures.
The hope is that the trend seen in recent months, with more passengers returning to the skies, will continue and through the summer, said Scott Johnston, public information officer for the county airports department. of Sacramento.
The unprecedented drop in travel has provided a silver lining for the capital’s runways: before the pandemic, the airport was experiencing capacity issues at gates and with parking. The decline in passenger numbers during the pandemic has given his team valuable time to develop plans to increase capacity once travel returns to normal.
With such a large drop in the number of travelers passing through Sacramento, it’s no surprise that hotels in the area have been hit hard. The Wyndham Garden hotel near the airport, as well as the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, Citizen Hotel, and Amber House Inn of Midtown – located in or near downtown Sacramento – all reported a drop in activity estimated at 50 to 70% compared to previous years. .
Some hotels have not been able to be opened for months at a time. The Hyatt Regency Sacramento located at 1209 L St. had to close completely from mid-March to the end of June, according to Brenda Kirian, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
Even hotels that have remained open continuously have been severely affected by business. The Citizen Hotel, located on J Street, has remained open year round but has faced persistent challenges.
“We have seen about a 70% drop from normal over the past year. Our business has been totally decimated, ”said Austin Pringle, director of the Citizen Hotel. “We have seen a reduction in staff; had to let some go, a majority were put on leave; but the hotel remained open all the time. And we weathered the storm better than many others in the region.
With rising vaccination rates, along with recently eased CDC security restrictions, hotels are noting an increase in bookings, but nothing comes close to levels they were at before the coronavirus.
“Some weekends, recently, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, we have been operating at full capacity again, with rooms fully sold,” said Evelyn Fernandez, general manager of Wyndham Garden. “But we are still working at a lower capacity, not fully operational like we would have been before COVID. We are still working in a limited capacity, now recalling some employees on leave. ”
Although the vaccination campaign resulted in a slight increase in travel, the future is still not clear. Part of this uncertainty lies in the lack of clarity of guidelines between regions.
An announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made on May 13 could relax safety guidelines and mask requirements – and, hopefully, lead to an increase in air travel. But that doesn’t change the current mask requirements at Sacramento International Airport, Johnston noted. Although the CDC has relaxed its guidelines in some contexts, prevention rules still apply to travelers. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration’s mandate for requiring masks and face coverings at airports and on airplanes, as well as surface transportation, has been extended until September 13.
Other uncertainties also make the future uncertain for travel and hospitality, including discrepancies between federal, state and local restrictions, as well as a lack of clarity as to when government buildings and event centers will reopen. .
“There aren’t as many reservations as there are incoming calls,” Kirian said. “There is so much confusion over what is allowed by federal guidelines, state guidelines, county guidelines, and no one knows what’s safe. It will really depend on when the Capitol opens and the state buildings reopen. We are talking about things that will happen on June 15, but it is not yet concrete. Once it’s set in stone I think it’s going to be busy overnight. There is so much pent-up demand. “