MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s Gulf Coast beaches are seeing a surge of tourists that for some businesses could prove to be their busiest June ever.
And with the extra hotel and condo bookings, tourism officials are seeing more traffic, longer waits for tables at restaurants, even sometimes bigger lines at grocery stores as businesses grapple with a worker shortage as the economy emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
In an effort to ask visitors to pack some extra patience along with their swimsuits and sunscreens, Alabama tourism officials launched a summer marketing campaign around the slogan “Worth the Wait.”
“With staffing shortages happening nationwide, especially in the tourism industry, we want to help guests understand what to expect or anticipate in our destination,” Kay Maghan, a spokeswoman for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, told AL.com.
During the Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach reported vacation rental occupancy near 85% — eclipsing previous high marks in 2019 and last year, when a flood of visitors arrived soon after Alabama beaches reopened during the pandemic.
Tourism officials also noted Interstate 10 and other major routes to the beaches saw heavier traffic than normal during the holiday weekend that marks an unofficial kickoff of the summer season.
“The entire state tourism industry experienced a great launch during the holiday weekend,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department.
The company Brett Robinson Rentals manages 1,700 rental units on Alabama beaches, and it reported bookings were near 100% for the Memorial Day weekend. Spokesman Robert Kennedy Jr. said the company is anticipating “what is maybe our best June ever.”
“There is still occupancy available,” Kennedy said. “But it will have a tendency to be midweek. The weekends are pretty much booked through the Fourth of July weekend, but we have availability.”
Meanwhile, many businesses are scrambling to hire enough workers for the busy season amid a national labor shortage, particularly in service industry jobs with lower wages.
At the Flora-Bama, a popular beachfront roadhouse at the Florida-Alabama line, the owners are still struggling to hire people despite offering a $500 bonus.
Jenifer Parnell, a Flora-Bama spokeswoman, said sales and traffic were up during the Memorial Day holiday while staffing remained “extremely difficult.”
“Some people trickle in to apply,” Parnell said, noting the bonuses have helped, “but we definitely need more.”