HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - We’re just a couple weeks away from what would typically be the start of a busy tourist season, but it’ll look a lot different this year.
The tourism industry has already taken a big hit.
“Yes, we’re looking ahead to June and the big summer months, but we’ve also missed out significantly on Easter and graduation and a lot of spring break components, so we definitely are seeing a huge economic impact,” said Dr. Nancy McGehee, head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Spending in Virginia went from $521 million the first week of March to $65 million the last week of April.
It’s still unclear when people will be able to start traveling again, and once they do, how long it will take to recover.
“That’s the question we’re all asking, and unfortunately the answer is: It depends," said McGehee.
McGehee says the recovery will be impacted by three things: The industry making some changes, whether tourists do what’s necessary to stay safe and whether communities are able and willing to receive tourists again.
McGehee says she’s already heard from dozens in the industry, many in the Virginia Beach area, about some of the things they’re working on, including no-touch registrations for hotels and minimizing lines.
Once people start traveling again, McGehee says businesses shouldn’t expect the recovery to come all at once, and tourists probably won’t venture too far from home.
“I think what you’re seeing are folks that are first interested in domestic travel, so they’re interested in that one tank of gas travel where folks can get somewhere in a day by car and have that experience and probably on a short term. Those long haul and international trips will probably wait until we have a vaccine and we have protocol in place for international travel which is happening right now,” said McGehee.
She also expects more people to be interested in outdoor and adventure activities in the beginning.
The RV industry is also starting to see an increase in interest since it allows people to travel while maintaining some distance.
McGehee says the industry is going to look different, but there can be some positive that comes from all of this.
“If there is any tiny silver lining to this very dark cloud of what we’re dealing with right now, is what I’ve seen in terms of industry folks who have taken a step back and looked at the product, looked at what they’ve got and how they can improve it and sort of unveil a wonderful new way for us to engage in hospitality and tourism,” McGehee said.