By Craig Monger

While holiday vacationers prepare for trips to the Gulf, questions remain about the availability of properties and business capacities.   

For many in Alabama, traveling to the coast is relatively commonplace for the holiday season. The COVID–19 pandemic put a damper on most beach plans in 2020, with businesses being shut down and a large number of areas being closed to the public. On top of the pandemic, Hurricane Sally also tore through the Gulf in September of 2020, leaving behind a significant amount of damage in its wake.

Many are excited to get to the Gulf to enjoy long overdue vacations. Still, questions remain about the capacity of businesses due to the pandemic, supply chain, staffing, and economic issues that are affecting the country.

According to Kay Maghan, the public relations manager for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, the Gulf is open for business but has not been untouched by the slew of problems that have impacted the nation.

According to Maghan, vacationers have already flooded the Gulf this year. Tax revenue in the Gulf shows that Alabamians have been eagerly awaiting a return to normalcy. Rental properties also saw pre-pandemic levels of occupancy.  

“The first eight months of 2021 have outpaced all of 2019 in lodging tax revenue and sales tax revenue,” Maghan said. “We won’t have visitor estimates for the year until spring of next year when the Alabama Tourism Department does their annual Tourism Economic Impact Report. Summer is our busiest season, and this summer saw vacation rental occupancy levels above 90% for most of June and July."

Although Hurricane Sally had a destructive effect on the Gulf, with plenty of rental properties and businesses experiencing damage, Meghan thinks the damage was addressed effectively.  

“Hurricane Sally definitely impacted the availability of hotel rooms and vacation rentals for several months after she blew ashore,” Meghan said. “That impact on lodging inventory lasted into the late spring/early summer of this year. Our occupancy levels over the summer certainly indicate interest in our area was not negatively impacted.”

Not only are Gulf properties back in full operational swing, but there has actually been an uptick in construction for new rental condos and beach homes. 

“Post-Hurricane Sally, our area had issues with limited supply because of extensive damage to many beach homes, condo buildings and hotels,” Maghan said. “We are now back to normal with our lodging inventory availability and are seeing new construction of condos and beach cottages/homes.” 

Although the Gulf has made an impressive recovery from the pandemic, it is not immune from the residual economic effects that have resulted. The entire nation is experiencing massive difficulties in hiring and maintaining staff and experiencing cost increases due to the supply chain breakdown and inflation; Gulf businesses must adapt to these issues along with the rest of the country. The staffing and supply issues may lead to less-than-desirable business hours, wait times, and cost increases. 

Luckily, there are no remaining lockdowns or closures in the Gulf due to the COVID–19 pandemic. All businesses and attractions are open to the public and doing business.

“There are no restrictions related to the pandemic,” Maghan said. “Like many towns across Alabama and the country, we are still dealing with workforce shortages, so some businesses have adjusted their days of operation or hours of operation. Normally in the fall and winter, we see restaurants and attractions close on Mondays; this year some businesses are closing on Monday and Tuesday.”

While there may be some adjustments for those desiring to make the Gulf their holiday destination, the fact remains that Orange Beach, and other Gulf locations, have adapted to the extrinsic economic issues. Rental properties, restaurants, attractions, and beachfronts are open and ready for business.