Tough summer ahead for Vermont tourism sector

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Next weekend is Memorial Day, the traditional kickoff to Vermont's summer tourism season. State officials, usually eager to attract visitors, are hoping residents will take a staycation to support businesses and make up for out-of-state traffic.

Every summer, thousands of out-of-state visitors come to Vermont hotels, B&Bs, and campgrounds like Malletts Bay in Colchester.
Co-owner Charlie Handy says about half of his campers come from outside of Vermont.

"People we used to get from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, all over the world, because we're across from Lake Champlain," Handy said.

Vermont now has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country and Governor Phil Scott is hoping to keep it that way. Last week the state recorded just 15 new cases. That compares to 400 in New Hampshire and 6,000 in Massachusetts. That's why a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors remains in effect, something Handy says will make it impossible for most tourists to come here.

"Most of them come in, they stay a week or two anyway. They're not going to come and sit in their trailer for a week or two. It just doesn't make any sense," he said.

"It's not a perfect system, but we're trying to accommodate as many people as possible. We're hoping Vermonters will have a staycation, explore Vermont," Scott said.

The state is planning on opening its public campgrounds on June 26th. But shared spaces like cabin rentals and equipment such as playgrounds and fishing poles will be off limits.

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore encouraged visitors to bring their own hand sanitizer and table cloths for picnic tables to avoid the spread of germs. "We will be taking steps to promote and maintain physical distance between unrelated visitors -- park staff and visitors -- and to manage reduce or eliminate common touch points," she said.

But for the travel and tourism industry, which is heavily reliant on in-person gatherings such as restaurants and concerts, Handy says those businesses will keep taking a hit until social-distancing guidelines are rolled back. "This is going to be a tough year for tourism and restaurants and stuff like that," he said.

Governor Scott says he expects to make an announcement regarding outdoor dining for restaurants by this Friday.