Will new rules hurt winter tourism businesses in Vermont?
WAITSFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) - Skyrocketing coronavirus cases and new restrictions are spelling uncertainty for the upcoming ski season and the millions of dollars those visitors bring to Vermont’s economy.
Businesses in Waitsfield say that big spikes in cases and the subsequent restrictions have them feeling uncertain. But as coronavirus cases rise and the state places new restrictions on travel, bars and restaurants, how we do in these next few weeks in curbing the virus will be critical in keeping our economy afloat.
Vermont, its response to the pandemic and the economy are at a turning point.
“For everybody, it’s been an unpredictable year,” said Peter MacLaren of the West Hill House B&B.
MacLaren says through the summer revenue was down to 30%, mostly because of canceled weddings. After hearing about record coronavirus cases and new restrictions, he’s suspending new bookings until Christmas.
“A lot of properties in the Mad River Valley have decided to do something similar. We’re just very concerned about our own safety, the safety of our guests and the safety of the communities those guests are coming into,” MacLaren said.
Surging coronavirus cases-- 122 on Monday-- are prompting new restrictions on bars and restaurants.
This is on top of a universal two-week quarantine requirement for everyone entering the state.
For ski towns such as Warren and Waitsfield, the restaurants, shops and economy are in limbo.
“I think there’s a lot of trepidation for the winter. We’re concerned about what it’s going to look like. I think the uncertainty is wearing on a lot of our business people,” said Eric Friedman, the executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce.
That uncertainty is extending beyond ski towns. A recent survey from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce of 125 restaurants showed 80% are fearful about their future.
“They don’t know if they’re going to survive, they don’t know if they need to go into hibernation to make it through the winter or change their operations,” said Amy Spear of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
Anticipating a long winter ahead, lawmakers are reallocating $75 million for more business grants, targeted toward restaurants and lodging.
This isn’t a new program.
It’s just covering the unmet needs of some 3,100 businesses up to the $300,000 cap per business, so it only addresses financial losses so far.
“We thought it was best suited to make sure we could target this money to the hospitality sector, the ones that were the most impacted,” Vt. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said.
But as thousands face a long uncertain winter, MacLaren says any help from the state is welcome.
“Hopefully, until we get some money from the ski season, this money is essential for us to stay in business,” MacLaren said.
And the opportunity for more visitors and more business hinges on how we handle the pandemic.
These new grants will be rolled out in the coming weeks but they may not be enough to get every business through the winter.
State leaders say that we need another relief bill from Congress. But whether the House and Senate will act during a lame-duck session remains to be seen.
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