The Historic Triangle is taking a significantly hard economic blow as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak being an area that depends on tourism.
“Clearly, I mean obviously, this will have a significant impact on our economy,” said Jim Noel, York County’s director of economic development. “A significant part of our income to York County is derived from hotels and restaurants.”
To add to the difficulty, grocery shoppers are often greeted by empty store shelves as highly sought items like toilet paper quickly disappear.
In York County, James City County and Williamsburg, precautions are currently taking place to collect data and information on revenue loss from local businesses impacted by the coronavirus closures.
All three localities’ economic developments are working with businesses to ensure they are properly tracking their losses so if there is any federal assistance in the future, they’ll be prepared.
Williamsburg Economic Development has been sending messages to local businesses with resources for reporting their loss of revenue during this time. These include Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center, which is monitoring the disaster relief funds associated with the coronavirus and providing information for businesses that explains how to apply for disaster relief assistance.
Williamsburg has created a Business Loss Form on their website where businesses can enter information on their losses each week. The city will use this information to create local economic policies and to provide access to state and federal resources that may come available.
On Wednesday, York County’s Economic Development also created a section on their website that provides resources to businesses impacted by the coronavirus.
According to the website, the Small Business Association has announced that it will offer Economic Injury Disaster Loans to small businesses. However, before these loans applications can be accepted, Gov. Ralph Northam has to issue a disaster declaration. The website states that the declaration is anticipated soon but there is not an exact date.
In addition, the website encourages businesses to start collecting information on:
- Hotel room cancellations
- Meal reservation cancellations
- Private event cancellations
- Conference cancellations
- Declining numbers or visits
The information should be collected alongside any other revenue losses accrued by a business.
The question now is also how will this impact total losses for the busy season of tourism in the area?
During a special meeting of the James City County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, County Administrator Scott Stevens said the county is currently projecting a $2 million to $3 million loss of revenue due to the virus. However, he said the county has a $31.6 million fund balance that will help to mitigate the impact.
Opening Day for Busch Gardens, a large driver of tourism in the area, was originally scheduled for March 14 but due to the coronavirus, the amusement park closed all its theme parks through the end of the month.
The theme park donated a number of its perishable food items to help feed the local community.
“Thanks to Busch Gardens, we have tons of fresh produce for your families,” according to a Facebook post on Tuesday from the Williamsburg House of Mercy. “Thank you to all the churches and community organizations who are working from behind the scenes, and from the appropriate social distance, to keep Williamsburg families fed. Our community is stronger than any sickness.”
In Williamsburg, Vicki Cimino, executive director of the Williamsburg Tourism Council, said in an email that Visit Williamsburg is working to prepare for the changes to tourism and vacation revenue.
“As a destination where tourism is a major contributor to the economy and our lives, Visit Williamsburg will continue to evolve its response, align with the recommendations provided by our health and government officials at all levels and not forget that is a global issue,” Cimino said in an email.
Noel said York County is still compiling information based on the closures but there is expected to be a huge loss in revenue to the area.
“We’re very concerned about what that will do to county revenue,” Noel said. “No. 1 is we have to keep the county running and understanding what that impact will be on us is something we need to assess very quickly.”
Noel said the situation can be tricky because assistance from local and federal governments comes from a direct relationship with businesses. When a business’ revenues are down, the community’s tax revenues also decrease which limits the amount of assistance available.
The area is going to have to find creative ways to make up for the revenue in the future, he said.
Cimino said she feels confident in the area’s ability to make it through the crisis.
“We are optimistic that this iconic American destination that has borne witness to so much history, challenges and uncertain times will be resilient and recover as a community and as a vacation destination in the not so distant future,” she said.
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- Five things you need to know: Traveling during the threat of coronavirus