This holiday season wasn’t exactly the best of settings for travelers. Omicron cases exploded, creating staffing shortages and thousands of canceled flights. Add in soaring prices for airline tickets and gas, and an increasing number of Americans – and New Mexicans – who got sick.
Still, Covid weary Albuquerque residents found ways to see family and to celebrate what they hoped would be a better year ahead.
Monday was busier than the average day at Albuquerque International Sunport, with the morning the busiest and the rest of the day shaping up with steady traffic.
“We fly all the time and it’s busy in there (Sunport),” said Melanie Rivera, who was returning home Monday with her husband Damacio from their trip to Las Vegas.
Rivera’s observations fit airport officials’ expectation that the heaviest travel day this holiday season would be Monday. They predicted more than 13,000 travelers per day, near pre-pandemic levels, for the last two weeks. A normal travel day is about 12,000.
“Our projections haven’t changed,” said Stephanie Kitts, Sunport spokeswoman. “But we won’t have a clear picture until early next week.”
New Mexico, she added, “is historically behind the curve on things like this (Omicron) so it’s hard to say how folks are feeling. I know that a lot of people were definitely ready to travel.”
Albuquerque’s average hotel occupancy rates were higher than the national average over Christmas week, according to Visit Albuquerque. The city’s rate for Dec. 19 through Dec. 25 was 47.9 percent this season, higher than the rate for the same period nationwide of 44.3 percent.
Occupancy rates were also up in Albuquerque in 2021 when compared to 2020. From Dec. 20 through Dec. 26 in 2020 the rate was 38.8 percent.
Albuquerque numbers for 2021 improved because of the availability of vaccines and a boost in tourism marketing funds from the city, said Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque.
“While some of our comparison data is still coming in, it is no surprise that initial data shows there was improved performance this holiday season over the previous year,” she said.
AAA’s outlook for the area was also upbeat.
More than 8.5 million Mountain Region residents, which includes New Mexico, were projected to travel 50 miles or more from their homes between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.
That projection marked an increase of 35 percent from 2020, and only a 6 percent drop from 2019.
The bulk of the travel, AAA New Mexico said, or 7.7 million people, would drive, an increase of 28 percent from 2020 and 5 percent fewer than 2019.
AAA predicted there would also be big jumps in the number of people flying, reaching about 603,000 domestic, leisure travelers around the Mountain Region – which is a 185 percent jump from 2020 – and around 10 percent fewer than 2019 levels.
AAA, though, was hazy on whether its predictions were met because the forecast was in mid-November and the virus and weather may well have kept more people home.
Heading into 2022, Armenta said she expects to see plenty of competition for tourism dollars. But if 2021 is any indication, and depending on the pandemic, 2022 might be a better year.
“We know the tourism landscape will continue to be highly competitive and will therefore necessitate a strong marketing effort on behalf of Albuquerque and New Mexico to continue to see this vital recovery,” she said.