As the pandemic lingers, Atlanta tourism still likely a year away from a 'complete' recovery

Downtown Atlanta
There were signs of improvement in 2021 for Atlanta's tourism economy, but officials warn a full recovery is still a year away. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Atlanta tourism officials say they expect an uptick in visitors in 2022 after the omicron variant slowed the city’s tourism recovery over the last two months of last year.

Hotel occupancy rates in Atlanta were more than 10% higher in 2021 as compared to the previous year, thanks largely to leisure travel.

William Pate, who leads the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, says he expects a stronger return of business and group travel this year, pandemic permitting.

“There’s a pent-up demand for travel,” said Pate. “Absolutely no doubt about it. You see it in all of the data.”

When the pandemic first hit in 2020, Atlanta hotels saw their occupancy rates plunge to 36% for the year. A rebound last year brought that percentage up to just over 48%. But that still lags far behind 2019 numbers when there was a 74% occupancy rate.

“All of the indicators show that the business is going to be very strong this year,” said Pate. ”It’s not going to be as strong as 2019, it’s going to take us another year, probably to make a complete recovery.”

While the vast majority of Atlanta’s major conventions are still on for this year, one group, Pittconn, canceled its March meeting, citing uncertainty over the coronavirus.

At an executive committee meeting Friday, ACVB announced plans to ramp up marketing efforts this year after spending had been scaled back since the start of the pandemic.

“When we have a strong convention year and a strong year of attendance, financially, it really helps not only the hotels and restaurants but all the small businesses that support our industry as well,” said Pate. “And of course they’ve really suffered here the last two years.”