Will fall foliage season salvage COVID tourism losses?
WOODSTOCK, Vt. (WCAX) - Can Vermont’s tourism industry bounce back from the devastating blow of COVID-19? It’s no secret that Vermont tourism numbers have dipped dramatically during the pandemic. But as the fall foliage season approaches, those who rely heavily on those tourist dollars say they are confident things are getting better.
The leaves on the trees near the Quechee Gorge are starting to show their fall colors in some spots. Kent Jeffery and his family made a quick pit stop there on their way to Maine. “I haven’t been through here in years and it was just gorgeous,” Jeffery said.
Just a few short months ago that would not have been possible. Hotels and gift shops were closed and all out-of-staters were required to quarantine for 14-days. Between March and June, Vermont saw a 97% drop in lodging and an 86% drop in restaurant meals compared to the previous year.
“It was pretty devastating,” said Kate Miller who manages the Footprints clothing store in nearby Woodstock. She used the downtime to renovate the business. And as things slowly opened back up, she says the summer shopping season has been surprisingly good. “Everyone who has come, whether they are out of state or in-state, have been exceptionally respectful, happy to be out, and they are buying local.”
“We are a little bit nervous about fall,” said Patricia Eames, owner of the Clover Gift Shop around the corner. Her year-round products, like CBD, are continuing to sell, but, she’s buying less fall inventory. Mostly because she knows the international tourist buses will likely not be rolling through any time soon. “A lot of Europeans and a lot of Canadians and a lot of people from the Midwest. And without those people, I’m a little nervous.”
Big bucks are on the line. Tourism brings in close to $3 billion in revenue to Vermont every year. The six-week fall foliage season accounts for about 10% of that, roughly $280 million. That money isn’t just going to tourist towns like Woodstock.
“They really explore, and that means the economic benefit that they bring really reaches to communities surrounding those traditional tourist communities,” said Vt. Tourism Commissioner Heather Pelham.
People like Kent Jeffery, who is navigating the roads and the pandemic, just like the rest of us. “We always try to shop locally and support local businesses, but again, you are much more conscious about places that you know are safe,” he said.
One thing that is certain is the leaves will be changing no matter what. And for tourists who want to take in that beauty, officials say Vermont is open for business.
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