While Virginia and other states plan for reopening in the next few months, there is still uncertainty from travelers impacting the tourism market.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, tourism in the Historic Triangle and on a national scale has taken a hit — a big hit.
According to data from the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending plummeted by $119 million during the first month of the pandemic in March. Compared to the previous year, this is a 78 percent decrease in travel spending.
But Gov. Ralph Northam has started a tiered plan to reopen the state which some in the tourism industry are hoping will drive travelers to the area.
Allyson Harris, owner of The Travel Corner, said her customers primarily focus on international travel but as the pandemic continues to change how travelers plan their destinations, she expects more will probably want to stay close to home in the near future.
“There’s a lot of older folks that are world-wide travelers, but it’s not comfortable for them to travel right now,” she said. “So a road trip to Virginia or other states could be more attractive because they don’t have to get in an airplane.”
In a previous interview, Victoria Cimino, CEO of the Williamsburg Tourism Council, said research showed travelers are viewing small towns and rural destinations in a more favorable fashion.
With that in mind, the Williamsburg Tourism Council has started a new advertising campaign directed at encouraging travelers to come to the area.
“Visit Williamsburg’s primary role is to drive overnight visitation through its advertising efforts and provide information to consumers on what is open and safety measures that have been put in place,” Cimino wrote in an email.
She said she expects people will be happy to get outside but will be wise to take the necessary precautions.
But there is no telling how quickly people will start to feel comfortable with travel in any means.
Cimino said with everything opening in phases, it will take time for businesses to fully reopen. While this gives them time to prepare and hire staff as needed, it also leaves those in the tourism industry unsure of what to expect.
“Whenever there’s an event like 9/11 or a virus, people tend to be more cautious in the near term with travel plans,” said Bill Reinagel, co-owner of Above & Beyond Travel of Virginia.
While Above and Beyond mainly handles international travel, Reinagel said he understands why people would want to travel closer to home in the near future. Trips that can be done domestically or even through road trips give people a greater sense of security should health concerns arise.
Reinagel said the company hasn’t had many inquiries about travel in the near future, but there are still clients wondering about their options for spring and summer of 2021.
At Travel Corner, Harris said the business hasn’t had any clients interested in new future travel but rather has been working to cancel or reschedule travel plans impacted by the pandemic. She said the mission of the company has changed in the meantime to help people get their money back and protect the financial investment of travel plans.
But those who have had to cancel their trips are looking at ways to go on the same trip but at a later date.
“This is still in its infancy,” Harris said. “It’s not just about states opening, it’s about the world opening. A lot of people are on the edge of their seat waiting to watch the world open.”
Harris said there will be “fabulous” opportunities in the future as cruise lines and other parts of the industry encourage travelers to use their services.
“There are operators pretty much booked for tours next year, so that shows you that there is hope we can start getting people out and about sooner than next year,” she said. “So at least there is a bright future and really great travel opportunities coming.”
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