COVID-19 impacts tourism in Montgomery County

Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 11:06 PM EST
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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The COVID-19 pandemic has halted travel plans and put vacations on hold for many, impacting local economies around our hometowns.

According to Executive Director Lisa Bleakley of the Montgomery County Regional Tourism Office, in 2019 the county was on track for a record 10-year growth.

Virginia Tourism released the 2019 economic impact in mid-2020. $168 million was spent by visitors in Montgomery County, which is a a 5.2 percent increase over the previous year. This spending generated $10.3 million of combined state and local tax revenue.

In March 2020, things changed.

“Everything came to a stop and we experienced a large dip when travel stopped,” Bleakley said.

The initial drop came from hotel occupancy. This was averaged across all reporting hotel properties in Montgomery County going down from 62.4 percent occupancy in February 2020 to 41.2 percent occupancy in March with Executive Order 53.  The drop continued downward to 26.4 percent occupancy in April. Levels have stayed much below the levels of 2019, but continue to fluctuate even as low as single digits for some hotels.

“When folks aren’t staying in hotel rooms, other cash registers aren’t ringing, we don’t have that new injection of money,” Bleakley said. “The restaurants are solely dependent on the residents from the people who live here, and we’ve done a good job trying to keep them busy, but I’m sure they have felt the impact.”

“About the 15th of March we thought we were going to die,” said Beliveau Bed and Breakfast Owner Yvan Beliveau at Monday’s Montgomery County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The Beliveaus are among many other business owners revamping how to make ends meet.

“Our revenue this year will be okay; we’re not going to lose money,” Beliveau said. “That’s because people are searching for these areas that are more remote away from populated areas and I think that’s going to continue.”

The tourism office switched to informative mode, looking for funds to promote local travel and outdoor recreation.

Bleakley said Virginia Tech home football games typically make up a third of travel expenditures for the county. In the fall, about $90,000 of CARES Act funds came from the towns and county. Bleakley said that’s when things started to change for the better.

Places like the Inn at Virginia Tech have expanded conference rooms and upgraded technology features to make way for big meetings that don’t gather in one place.

“It’s going to take a little while to pull out and be back at those pre pandemic levels,” Bleakley said. “We certainly do everything we can to bring that tourism back for our community.”

Bleakley said although things are starting to trend upward, it will take time to fully recover. According to her research from other tourism leaders, she said we may not see things entirely back to normal until closer to 2023-2024.

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