Gulf Shores and Orange Beach tourism achieved record-shattering numbers in 2021 following a weak year due to COVID-19 in 2020. But how did Alabama beaches compare in their most popular season this year?

According to the 2021 Alabama Tourism Industry Economic Impact Report, travel-related earnings in Baldwin County took a small hit in 2020 from 2019. Still, revenues were up by 30% from pre-COVID levels in 2021, with the year raking in almost $2.5 billion.

According to Kay Maghan, the public relations manager for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, summer 2022 wasn’t entirely on par with 2021. However, it was still an above-average season. 

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, but Orange Beach kept afloat by keeping businesses open as much as possible at the municipal level.

Kennon said 2021 was a record year, but 2022 was not far behind.

“We had a really good summer,” Maghan said. “We’re at the point now where most of your tourism businesses are looking at this year compared to 2019 … 2020 was just weird for everybody, and 2021 was a bit of an anomaly because so many people were traveling.”

“We had a fantastic summer,” said Kennon. “Occupancy was really good, especially Fourth of July weekend … We can’t complain at all.”

According to Maghan, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach vacation rental occupancy for June 2022 was down only 1% from June 2021, and 6% higher from June 2019, the last “normal” summer before the tourism industry was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the government lockdowns that followed. She said July 2022 was very similar.

Maghan said gas prices and inflation didn’t impact travel as much as she expected. Summer 2022 vacation rental occupancy still averaged between 80% to 90%.

Now Alabama beaches will look forward to the fall, which Maghan called a “shoulder season.”

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach’s busiest months are in the summer, but the fall and spring are becoming more popular, both Maghan and Kennon said.

This enables those employed in the tourism industry to have jobs nearly year-round. Tourism is the number-one employer in Baldwin County, according to Meghan.

Fall is a popular season for festivals, which keeps attendees coming into town even as the weather cools down.

“The festivals are key,” Maghan said. “... We do usually get some good traffic for those special event weekends.”

“We have to assume [the fall is] going to be good,” Kennon said. “Every fall seems to get busier as we have more and more to do.”

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