Tourism on Long Island for the July Fourth weekend is recovering since taking a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic but it is taking a different shape now.
High prices for gasoline, flights, hotel rooms and other goods and services are not deterring holiday revelers from taking getaways, due in large part to pent-up travel demand in the third summer of the pandemic, according to travel experts.
But the trips will be shorter in distance and duration than they were for the holiday in 2019, the last normal year of travel before the pandemic, and a growing number of people are choosing cars over planes, experts said.
Several Long Island hotels, restaurants and other businesses that typically see a surge in business on the holiday are reporting strong reservation numbers.
Rising airfares ground some travelers
The average costs for airline tickets for the July 4 weekend have increased significantly.
Average roundtrip domestic airfare for travel from NYC-area airports, July 1-5
The number of roundtrip airline tickets sold for travel from four New York City-area airports will be down 63% from the same period in 2019 and 35% from the same period in 2021.
Average roundtrip domestic airfare for travel to NYC-area airports, July 1-5
The number of roundtrip airline tickets sold for travel to four New York City-area airports will be down 61% from the same period in 2019 and 40% from the same period in 2021.
Source: Airlines Reporting Corp.
“We’ll have a full house. We’re having a band playing, a barbecue … we have a full sit-down restaurant, as well,” said Jamie Blatman, general manager for New York Beach Club, a membership-based venue in Atlantic Beach that has eight acres of oceanfront property and two swimming pools.
Nationwide, the number of people planning to travel at least 50 miles between Thursday and Monday will total an estimated 47.9 million, which is the second-highest number on record, falling below only the 2019 number, which was 49 million, according to AAA.
Over the five-day period, there will be a record-high number of people nationwide traveling by car, 42 million, but the percentage of air travelers, 7.4%, will be the lowest since 2011, AAA said.
Far Rockaway resident Bridgette Davis, 50, and her family often travel out of the country to Jamaica, the Bahamas or Mexico for the holiday week but the high cost of airfare, gas and other items this year nixed those plans, she said.
“I’ll be home. We’ll have a local barbecue,” said Davis, who was at Walmart in Farmingdale on Tuesday with her sister Monica Cheeseboro, 51, of Lynbrook, shopping for groceries for their family’s July Fourth gathering.
West Islip resident Doug Winter, 34, will be at a local beach with his fiancee and son, 14, on July 4, he said.
He normally would host a July Fourth cookout at his home or take his boat out on the water for the holiday but won’t this weekend, nor has he so far this year, because of the high cost of food and fuel, he said.
“We’re laying low locally. Everything is too expensive,” he said.
'It's our Super Bowl'
New York Beach Club, which sells memberships that range from $1,200 to $20,000 for the season, sells out of memberships every year, based on its number of cabanas and other accommodations available, Blatman said.
“We sold out last year [and we’re sold out this year] but I think the amount of people in the accommodations are larger than they have been in the past. So, we’re seeing increased need,” said Blatman, who said that the club’s amenities being mostly outdoors has helped during the pandemic.
Much July Fourth tourism on Long Island is dependent on the weather, which makes it hard to predict turnout, said Kareem Massoud, president of the Long Island Wine Council and a winemaker at his family’s businesses: Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue and Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead.
July Fourth can be popular for wine tasting but Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day weekends typically are much bigger for Long Island’s wineries, he said.
COVID-19 hit wineries hard because of shutdowns in 2020, but 2021 was the strongest year ever for the industry on Long Island, Massoud said.
Sales this year are down a little compared to last year, but COVID-19 is not seen “as a huge obstacle to business anymore,” he said.
Businesses that serve customers and clients mostly outdoors are reporting strong advance sales for this weekend.
July Fourth is the busiest weekend of the year for Yacht Hampton, a 7-year-old luxury boating club in Sag Harbor, said Joe Ialacci, 50, president-owner.
“It’s our Super Bowl,” he said.
As of June 24, 85% of his boats were booked for this Saturday through Monday, and he was expecting to sell out Friday, Ialacci said.
“It’s been refreshing not to have COVID put a damper on and complicate the booking and cancellation process,” he said.
A different look
In 2018, tourism spending on Long Island exceeded $6 billion for the first time, increasing 4.5% from the year before, and the annual spending grew 2.8% to $6.3 billion in 2019, according to tourism studies that Wayne, Pennsylvania-based Tourism Economics produced for New York State’s economic development agency, Empire State Development.
But the COVID-19 pandemic took a lot from Long Island businesses, starting in the first quarter of 2020.
Visitor spending on Long Island declined 37% to $4 billion in 2020 compared with the previous year and the number of tourism-related jobs fell 26.4% to 58,958, as a result of business shutdowns and other restrictions related to the pandemic, according to an October 2021 study from Tourism Economics.
The largest share of the 2020 tourism spending on Long Island came from food and beverage sales, which accounted for 34% of the total, or $1.4 billion; followed by lodging, 17%, or $668 million; retail and gas sales, 15%, or $588 million; and seasonal second homes, 10%, or $387 million, according to the study.
“Long Island actually fared better than most destinations during the pandemic because we have the beaches, the open spaces, the parks and the proximity to New York City,” said Kristen Reynolds, chief executive officer of Discover Long Island, which promotes tourism in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
On Long Island annually, 67% of visitors come from New York City, she said.
Because of the pandemic, however, more of Long Island’s tourism is last-minute and businesses are offering more flexibility to customers, such as free cancellation of reservations, Reynolds said.
Wanted: More workers
The biggest challenge the Long Island hospitality industry is facing today is the workforce shortage, she said.
With pandemic-related shutdowns and layoffs, and the so-called Great Resignation that started in early 2021, the restaurant, hotel and other service industries have been hit particularly hard.
The number of people working at hotels on Long Island fell by 27.6%, from 5,800 to 4,200 workers, between May 2019 and May 2021, according to the New York State Department of Labor. The number grew to 4,900 workers by May 2022, the newest data available.
Long Island restaurant employment declined 9.5%, from 99,400 to 90,000 workers, between May 2019 and May 2021, but had increased to 99,000 as of May 2022, according to the labor department.
July Fourth is one of the busiest weekends of the year for Babylon Fish & Clam Restaurant, said Melissa Laroque, who co-owns with her husband, Frantz Laroque, the eatery her parents founded in 1967.
She is concerned, however, about being short-staffed.
“Now, we’re lucky we have more help than last year,” with five servers, but the restaurant had twice as many before the pandemic started, Melissa Laroque said.
Caribbean Island Restaurant & Bar, which opened on the Nautical Mile in Freeport in August, is expecting a good turnout this weekend and offers music by live bands, but staffing problems continue to pose challenges, said Bibi Bethune, who owns the eatery and two others in Queens.
“That is stressing me out. … Since the pandemic, nobody wants to work hard. As soon as they face a little challenge at work, they quit,” she said.
Healthy hotel bookings
Most hotels on Long Island are forecasting high occupancies and strong rates for the July Fourth weekend, especially the East End, said Dorothy Roberts, president of the Long Island Hospitality Association.
"The social and leisure markets have had a healthy recovery and are even exceeding 2019 numbers in many LI hotels," said Roberts, who also is vice president for operations and development at Oxford Hospitality, USA, a Jericho-based company whose seven hotels include the Hilton Garden Inn Melville and the Hilton Garden Inn Roslyn in Port Washington.
Preliminary data for Long Island shows that demand for weekend getaways will be up in certain sectors this weekend but it will look different.
For example, as of June 24, the number of overnight stays on Long Island, excluding the Hamptons, reserved at short-term vacation home rentals through Airbnb and Vrbo for the July Fourth weekend totaled 5,376, which was 18% more than in the same period in 2021 but 5.5% fewer than in 2019, according to AirDNA, a Denver-based provider of analytics on the short-term rental industry.
In the Hamptons, however, the number of overnight stays reserved at short-term vacation home rentals totaled 3,767, which was 10.3% more than the number in 2021, but 37.2% less than the number in 2019.
Blame it on Americans’ changing work habits, said Jamie Lane, vice president of research at AirDNA.
“For short-term rentals, the Hamptons is like many other destination markets that saw an uptick in homeowners using their homes for significantly longer periods and in many cases pulled them out of the rental market altogether. The rise in the ability to work from home has many … now using their [vacation] home for their own use,” he said.
While demand for short-term vacation home rentals was strong in 2021, there were 40% fewer listings available for rent, he said.
“That has continued into 2022, where we still see supply down relative to 2019 levels,” he said.
Meanwhile, the number of short-term vacation home rentals available across the United States is 12% higher than in 2019, he said.
Hamptons rate tops $1,300
The average price of short-term vacation home rentals hasn’t changed much from last year, but there has been a significant increase since 2019, according to AirDNA.
The average daily rate on July 4 on Long Island, excluding the Hamptons, is $692.37, which is 14.2% higher than the price in the same period in 2019, $606.09.
The average daily rate in the Hamptons is $1,308.08, a jump of 33.1% from the price in 2019, $982.47.
The hotels that are not as affected by consumers cutting back on their vacation spending are those whose target demographic is high-income clientele, whose spending isn’t affected by the rising price of gas or other products.
High-end hotels American Beech in Greenport, which has 13 rooms, and Aqua by American Beech in Aquebogue, which has 18 rooms and its own private beach on Peconic Bay, are fully booked for Friday through Sunday and 65% booked for Monday , said Stephanie Carballo, general manager for both properties.
Requiring three-night stays, American Beech costs $650 per night this weekend and Aqua costs $695 per night.
The hotel never saw a decline in business during the pandemic, said Carballo, who said Aqua’s beach location sells itself.
“We kind of make people feel like they’re not in New York for those three days that they’re staying with us,” she said.
Rising rates, falling stays for July 4
The average costs for hotel room rentals for the July 4 weekend have increased significantly, while the stays will be shorter, compared to the same period in 2019, the last year of regular travel before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Much of the price increases are due to pent-up travel demand amid the pandemic, experts said.
Average daily hotel rate in the Hamptons
Average daily hotel rate on Long Island, excluding the Hamptons
Average length of hotel stays on Long Island:
2022: 2.07 days
2021: 1.97 days
2019: 2.32 days