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Vermont tourism industry suffers a big hit from COVID

Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 6:16 PM EDT
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BARRE, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s summer tourism season is coming to a close as kids return to school. So how big of a hit did Vermont take this summer? Our Calvin Cutler takes a look at how the state’s tourism industry is holding up.

It’s been a tough summer for Vermont’s tourism and hospitality sector, with lodging down 97% and food service down 86%.

Jeffrey Tuper-Giles, the owner of the Reynolds House Inn in Barre, is just one business owner feeling the squeeze.

“People are not booking right now because they are afraid that states will be shut down again and I think people are waiting to see what happens with schools reopening to see whether travel will be possible or whether we’re going to have another big outbreak,” Tuper-Giles said.

Tuper-Giles says there has been an uptick in event bookings recently but he’s still down in revenue.

At the Cold Hollow Cider Mill along Route 100 in Waterbury, owner Paul Brown says he’s been lucky and that business has picked up as he’s adjusted to the new normal.

“April and May were abysmal. June came back slowly, July a little more quickly and August has actually been robust,” Brown said.

But he says going into the fall, much of his business’ success depends on the health of the area’s tourism ecosystem on the road to Stowe, such as the Cabot Cheese store and Ben and Jerry’s.

And with fewer tour buses coming for fall foliage and the Canadian border being closed until further notice, Brown is looking to local spending.

“That may hurt us some, too, but if Vermonters keep coming, then we’ll be happy,” Brown said.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Phil Scott implored Vermonters to take a staycation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and also to help local businesses. Though the state hasn’t kept data on both, Tuper-Giles and Brown say they’ve seen a big uptick of in-state traffic.

“It’s been almost all exclusively in-state people and a smattering of out-of-state people,” Tuper-Giles said.

With the state expecting a drop in revenue this fall, it’s preparing by doling out $50 million in grants just for hospitality and $50 million in local spending. And there is some $10 million for out-of-state tourism to bring more people in.

“Now we’re entering that next phase putting money behind out-of-state marketing to let people know we’re here, we have great experiences, a lot of room,” said Nate Formalarie of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community.

But whether it will be enough to keep the fall visitor season afloat remains to be seen as viral uncertainty clouds the future.

The Legislature is still mulling over all of the governor’s stimulus and marketing proposals. Though a timeline for approving the programs is unclear, lawmakers will have about a month to work out the budget.

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