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Boston loses its luster as a Labor Day destination

The city’s tourism market takes another COVID-19 hit this summer

Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall were almost empty on a beautiful August afternoon. Normally the popular tourist destination would be bustling during the summer.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

For those who have walked the quieter-than-usual streets of Boston this summer, the news will not come as a surprise: The city will see fewer tourists this Labor Day than last. Significantly fewer.

According to a study by the travel app TripIt, Boston, a normally popular place for tourists to celebrate the unofficial end of summer, has dropped out of the top 10 destinations for 2020, from number four down to 18. Meanwhile, Florida, a state which has no travel restrictions, reopened theme parks, and a high COVID-19 positive test rate (8.3 percent versus 1.1 percent in Massachusetts), has emerged as the country’s top Labor Day destination.


The study was culled from year-over-year flights and hotel reservations.

It found that Labor Day demand had dropped primarily in urban areas. New York, which was the fifth most popular destination last year, dropped to 19th this year. Last year’s top Labor Day destination, Denver, was replaced by Las Vegas. One of the commonalities among destinations that have dropped in popularity are that they have coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

“This is unfortunate news but hardly surprising,” said David O’Donnell, director of communications for the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Visitors can only come to Massachusetts from seven states, so there’s not a great opportunity for people to book flights to Logan right now. And since this data is based on round-trip flight reservations, we wouldn’t expect Boston to rank very high.”

O’Donnell said another factor may be that travelers have less disposable income than previous years.

“The traditional view that Boston and New York are pricey probably comes into play and influences decisions,” he added.

From January to June, demand for hotel rooms across Massachusetts has dropped 50 percent, while revenue has declined by just over 60 percent.

But while cities such as Boston and New York have seen drops in Labor Day bookings, a number of Florida cities are seeing tourism numbers on the rise, despite struggling with high COVID-19 positivity rates. Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale have all landed in the survey’s top 25 travel destinations.


“Beachy, tropical destination cities that are still accessible to Americans are proving popular, and Florida certainly fits that bill,” said Kelly Soderlund, TripIt’s travel trends analyst. “It also does not have the quarantine requirements of, say, Hawaii.”

Last week, a study from the financial services company IPX 1031 found that 83 percent of respondents planned to spend less on their vacation this year. Of the 2,000 US residents who participated in the survey, 70 percent said they changed their destination because of the virus, and 81 percent avoided large cities. A majority said they have either canceled or postponed trips.

Those road trips and avoidance of urban areas could be why New York has been slow to come back and beaches in New England have been packed through multiple heatwaves.

What has remained consistent throughout the pandemic is that people are still reticent to fly, and that reluctance has hit Boston hard. Airlines flying in and out of Logan have cut schedules. Boston is one of the cities hardest hit by a reduction in airline schedules, according to Airlines For America. Although the number of people flying is slowly increasing, numbers for Boston are still lagging. Last month, 83 percent fewer people passed through TSA checkpoints at Logan than in 2019. That’s one of the biggest drops in the United States.


Simply put, it’s been a rough year for tourism in Boston.

“Given concerns over COVID-19 and mitigating the risk of transmission, we may see areas of the Commonwealth, like the Berkshires and Cape Cod, experience market share growth relative to urban areas,” O’Donnell said. “The travel order certainly has impacted these numbers, as does the overarching vigilance in places like Massachusetts and New York, which creates significant restrictions on what a visitor experience looks like right now.”

Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.