State officials say initial data about summer tourism in Iowa indicates the number of travelers is “down slightly” from last year, but visitors are coming from a greater distance.

“Last year we saw a lot of shorter, in-state road trips,” says Jessica O’Riley, communications manager for the state’s Travel Iowa. “The average distance traveled for a trip this year is just 233 miles compared to 140 miles last year. We’re also seeing hotel occupancies higher this year.”

Air traffic represents Iowans traveling elsewhere well as out-of-staters visiting Iowa. Passenger traffic at the airport in Des Moines is up 60% and passenger numbers at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids is up 50% over last year. O’Riley says the only surrounding state with a higher tourism recovery rate from 2019, the year before the pandemic, is South Dakota.

Tourism in Jasper County in July doubled this year compared to last, due to the Indy Car races at the Iowa Speedway in Newton. However, major Iowa tourism events like the State Fair, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa and the Field of Dreams game in Dyersville are not included in the initial statewide tourism estimate.

“These are early summer numbers. There’s still summer left,” O’Riley says. “We’ve got a big holiday coming up here in a couple of weeks with Labor. I just saw a study where 53 million Americans plan to travel Labor Day weekend.”

That would be about the same number who traveled last year. O’Riley says “for the most part” events and establishments that serve tourists have reopened after pandemic-related closures, but there are still staffing issues.

“We have told people since the pandemic started that if they’re going to travel to pack your patience,” O’Riley says. “It may take you a little bit longer at the restaurant. Your check-in may not go as quickly and as long as you plan for those into your itinerary, then you will have a much more enjoyable experience.”

Hotel rates are trending higher in Iowa and elsewhere and some restaurants have raised prices. O’Riley says the initial data state officials have reviewed from summer travel and tourism in Iowa indicates overall spending is 4.6% higher than 2019.