Summer Unofficially Opens, Will Ohioans Still Travel?

Much remains up in the air for regional tourism destinations as summer begins

By Terry Troy

Travel is an often overlooked, but vital part, of the Ohio economy. Last year, travelers generated $48 billion for Ohio businesses, and these businesses employed 431,000, according to the Ohio Travel Association (OTA).

“It is difficult to say how the pandemic will impact Ohio businesses this summer, as most of our attraction businesses remain closed due to the governor’s orders,” says Melinda Huntley, executive director of the OTA. “These businesses have worked for weeks to create safety plans and are ready to welcome visitors, and their employees need to return to work.

“Numbers released this week by the U.S. Travel Association show that the unemployment rate for travel related jobs in the U.S. is 51%. That’s more than half of all jobs. Every week our businesses remain closed, more and more jobs are at risk. Year-over-year weekly travel spending in Ohio is down 84% as of May 9, a loss of $509 million and a loss of $15 million in state tax revenues.”

Even resorts outside of Ohio, which welcome thousands of visitors from our state, are feeling the pandemic’s effect.

“The current pandemic is having a significant impact on the hospitality industry,” says John Hess, director of sales and marketing for the Omni Homestead, a family resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. “This is unfolding in multiple ways. First, it is impacting the way in which individuals and families travel and the places they choose to go and stay. We anticipate cleanliness and safety will be major factors in travel decisions where they may have just been minor considerations in prior years. Finally, it is impacting the way we operate our hotels in order to help guests feel safe while away from home and in our care. We anticipate the level of demand to be subdued this summer with fewer total travelers around the country.”

Two factors may positively affect travel and tourism in our state. As weather warms above an average of 77 degrees, coronavirus cases are expected to decline. With positive reporting of coronavirus numbers, more Ohioans will be confident in making travel plans.

However, it’s also likely that fewer Ohioans will be confident in traveling by air, which could increase the number of driving vacations and road trips to more local and regional destinations, which would have a positive impact on tourism dollars in our state.

“We do expect that our remote location will be attractive to the drive market,” adds Hess. “With over 2,000 acres of beautiful mountain terrain surrounding our valley, this is a place like no other for escaping the stress of daily life. We are implementing completely new procedures

for cleaning our hotel and interacting with our guests in order to provide a safe and welcoming environment for our guests.

“We expect most of our guests to come from our drive markets. Additionally, we believe that the typical drive market may expand further as more people consider driving to destinations instead of flying. We expect to see many guests from Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.”