Vt. tourism season heats up as labor problems persist

Published: Jul. 7, 2021 at 6:31 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 7, 2021 at 6:54 PM EDT
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STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - Summer tourism season has arrived in the Green Mountains, but despite Vermont’s first-in-the-nation vaccination rate and minimal COVID restrictions, an ongoing labor shortage is hobbling some businesses.

Summer is in full swing in Stowe. Creemees are being served, bikers are hitting the trail, and thousands are taking to scenic highways and byways like the Notch Road, which was thankfully clear of stuck tractor-trailers Wednesday.

“We just wanted to experience this whole nature vibe here. There’s a good culture of farm-to-table, so we wanted to get some good food,” said Raphael Togun, who is visiting from Orlando.

While pandemic restrictions last year put the kibosh on tourism, Vermont is seeing a big dose of summer optimism now that travel is back on. Mobility data from Google through July 2nd shows a 6% increase in traffic to retail and recreation and an over 100% increase to state parks.

“It seems like a lot of people are coming and want to be out in the beautiful nature,” said Tammy Wilson, who was visiting from New Hampshire.

“It’s kind of amazing because it’s like the faucet is turned on and people came,” said Jamie Wolfe, who along with Jasmin Queen-Gilbertson, run the Golden Eagle Resort in Stowe. They’re back to pre-pandemic bookings and events are picking back up.

“I’m seeing a bunch of brides coming out to get married. We’re also seeing a lot of family reunions where people can come do things,” Queen-Gilbertson said.

The flood of bookings in Stowe and thousands of others in Vermont is driven by a post-pandemic travel itch, and state officials say a new $2 million marketing campaign paid for with federal relief cash also helps. “A lot of different things, like your digital display ads -- we’re also doing pre-roll videos on YouTube and Hulu and all of those other streaming services,” said Nate Formalarie with Vt. Department of Tourism and Marketing.

Queen-Gilbertson says that the biggest issue continues to be finding staff. There’s been a labor shortage for years, but many point to extended unemployment benefits, lack of affordable child care, and sub-par wages as the culprit. Add to that a shortage of affordable housing for workers in the Stowe area.

“It was rough. It was very rough here last year, and it still is,” said Vera Lopez of Stowe.

The fix to the labor pinch remains unclear. Governor Scott is likely letting extended benefits expire in the fall and leaders are working to bring more housing units online.

Meanwhile, Wolfe and Queen-Gilbertson say they are making it work by raising rates and raising wages for employees. “We have to make it. We make a promise to guests that stay here and we have to fulfill that promise, whether we have people that work here or not,”

As busy as this summer is, businesses we spoke to say they’re expecting an even busier fall.

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