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Small businesses in the U.S. that depend on tourism and vacationers say business is bouncing back, as Americans rebook postponed trips and spend freely on food, entertainment and souvenirs.

U.S. states and cities have loosened many of their restrictions on crowd size and mask-wearing, a positive sign for businesses that struggled for more than a year when theme parks and other tourist attractions were shuttered.

Still, the return to a pre-pandemic "normal" is a way off for most. There are few business travelers and international tourists. Many businesses are grappling with staff shortages and other challenges. And if a surge of the more contagious delta or another variant of the coronavirus forces states to re-enact restrictions or lockdowns, the progress might be lost.

The U.S. Travel Association, a travel industry trade group, predicts domestic travel spending will total $787 billion in 2021. That's up 22% from 2020 but still down 20% from 2019 levels. The association predicts travel spending won't completely rebound above 2019 levels until 2024.

In Santa Fe, N.M., Jenny Kimball, co-owner of the independent hotel La Fonda on the Plaza, with 180 rooms, said her hotel is sold out through the summer and booked about 90% on average for the fall. That's a welcome change from the two or three guests the hotel had at one point as it stayed open during the height of the pandemic.

"It's crazy busy, it's wonderful — everyone is happy," she said.

The clientele is different than before the pandemic: There are more families and people working remotely, and they're staying longer, an average or four or five nights compared to two or three.

"Families want to come and stay longer and really vacation and see more of the city and more of the museums," Kimball says.

Kimball's biggest problem: A shortage of workers in the restaurant, bar and kitchen. She urged vacationers to have patience.

Heather Bise owns and runs a seven-bedroom bed-and-breakfast in Cleveland, near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She opened The House of Bise Bespoke in 2019 and catered to international tourists, attracting guests from New Zealand, Botswana, Eastern Europe and other far-off places.

The cancellations started in January 2020 and she refunded guests thousands of dollars.

So, Bise retooled her business model and switched to renting out the whole house. Ohio lifted restrictions on mass gatherings in March, and the Hall of Fame reopened in June. Business has rebounded during the past two months — so much so that she's making more than she was pre-pandemic. Demand is so strong she raised prices and switched from serving breakfast and dinner to just breakfast.

Her guests are now all from the U.S., usually families meeting up for a reunion or wedding parties — which now make up 60% of her business. She worries that the wedding business will evaporate after the summer and fall.

"Let's just hope people are having weddings in January," she said.

Many owners are pleasantly surprised by the pickup in domestic tourists, but still need to see corporate travelers and tourists from overseas before business is back to normal. That could take some time. While improved from 2020, the USTA estimates that spending on business travel this year will be less than half of 2019's $270 million and international travel spending will total about one-third the $179 million spent two years ago.

And so far, tourists have been freewheeling with spending, small business owners say.

Denise Quinn owns the Gilded Oyster jewelry store in Falmouth, Mass., which counts on Cape Cod vacationers for much of its business.

People are spending more in the shop, she said, buying multiple items instead of just one, including gifts for themselves and others.

"The average price point is definitely higher," she said. "People come in to treat themselves and get a memento from their time at the Cape."