Jun 6, 2022 - Things to Do

Boston readies for a tourism comeback

Eleanor Smart of the USA dives from the 21-meter platform at the roof of the ICA building in front of a large crowd.

Eleanor Smart of the USA dives from the 21-meter platform during the final competition day of the first stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series on June 04 in Boston. (Photo by Romina Amato/Red Bull via Getty Images)

Boston's tourism chief expects the sector to resurge this summer after two years of below-average revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: Massachusetts tourism sector was hit hard by the pandemic and employers only recently began to bring back more jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • The state's hotel and lodging industry alone lost over $4 billion in room revenue, WBUR reported in April.

Driving the news: The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau projected hotel capacity will reach 66% this year, higher than any year since the pandemic was declared.

  • That's not far off from the 2019 average of 82%.

But Martha Sheridan, the Bureau's president and CEO, said she expects the city to exceed this year's projection.

  • "We finally started our upward trajectory into recovery mode. We're seeing hotel occupancies grow every month, getting closer to 2019 levels, and quite honestly, June looks to be one of our best months — not even pre-pandemic, but in many, many years," Sheridan tells Axios.

Between the lines: Sheridan says a confluence of events has set up Boston for a successful summer season.

  • The Hub is hosting multiple high-profile events, from the Cliff Diving World Series in the Seaport District to the U.S. Open in nearby Brookline, in addition to large business conventions. (The Celtics making the NBA finals doesn’t hurt, either.)
  • People are itching to travel and finally feel safe enough to do so, as COVID deaths and hospitalizations decline, according to state data.
  • Parts of Europe still require vaccinations or negative COVID tests to enter their countries, and U.S. travelers must provide a negative test when returning from international destinations, prompting people to travel domestically, Sheridan says.

Meanwhile, tourism workers are protesting the governor's latest proposal to sell the Hynes Convention Center. They argue a sale would leave the city with just one convention center — the larger Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport — and cost hundreds of locals their jobs.

  • The Back Bay Association, a neighborhood group, urged lawmakers to require that any redevelopment include 150,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, the Boston Business Journal reports.
  • "I absolutely think it could have an impact on the hospitality community in Boston, in the Back Bay in particular, if the sale is not managed in a way that somehow includes meeting facilities that will continue to support Back Bay hotels and businesses," Sheridan says.

One newer strategy for the visitors bureau is to highlight local businesses and destinations in various neighborhoods that deviate from the traditional revolutionary-era historical landmarks downtown.

The city is working with Live Like a Local Tours, a company founded by Boston resident Collin Knight.

  • The company offers walking tours in Nubian Square, Jamaica Plain and other predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods to introduce them to the history, business trends, food and breweries in those communities.
  • Knight calls the tours "all-inclusive." He uses some of the proceeds to buy his clients popular food and drinks from local businesses so they can experience it firsthand.

What they're saying: "It's just really giving people a chance to experience the full history and culture of neighborhoods of color, giving back to local businesses by circulating dollars within those communities," Knight tells Axios.

The bottom line: Don't be surprised if you see tourists returning to the usual downtown destinations — and your favorite neighborhood haunts.

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