Coronavirus: Clark County tourism still suffers as occupancy rates begin to rise

Jazzmin Shine, an employee of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in downtown Springfield, makes a reservation for a guest Tuesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Jazzmin Shine, an employee of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in downtown Springfield, makes a reservation for a guest Tuesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The local economic impact of tourism in Clark County for this year could drop by nearly 50% when compared to 2019 as the coronavirus pandemic has hit that industry hard.

However, it is unclear what long term effect the pandemic will have on local tourism as area hotel occupancy rates increased in June after dropping significantly in April.

The nature of the coronavirus has made it hard to gauge consumer confidence when it comes to local tourism, said Chris Schutte, the director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said that has made it difficult to predict how travelers will feel about visiting the area in the coming months.

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“As we have been moving forward, traveler sentiment is starting to rebound. Some are starting to consider doing a trip of some sort. They are also much more comfortable with auto travel than air travel,” Schutte said.

However, an increase in cases can quickly change that sentiment, he added, noting that Clark County has been marketed as a place for day trips or as a weekend destination.

“Spikes are felt. People tighten up again. We got to get through this whole process. There is no chance that we can get back to square one by the end of this year,” Schutte said.

This follows a gradual increase in local tourism spending over the past decade, which has accelerated over the past five years. It was recently reported that the area last year saw a $45 million increase in the economic impact of tourism when compared to 2015, bringing that number to $440.2 million, according to recent report from Tourism Economics.

Schutte said that before the pandemic, they expected an increase in that local impact for 2020 as the county was following an upward trend in tourism visits.

A large amount of travel to the area is attributed to business related visits as well as tourism drivers such as the Clark County Fairgrounds and the Champions Center Expo.

The pandemic has had a great impact on organisations that rely on income from hosting tours, exhibitions and live performances. Some of them did not have a revenue stream in the early months of the pandemic, said Schutte.

The coronavirus pandemic has also caused many companies to temporarily suspend business travel early on and local events that would normally generate millions of dollars into the local economy were cancelled in April.

Though local occupancy rates have slowly picked up since April, the pandemic and state preventive measures designed to curb the spread of the virus continues to have an impact on the local tourism industry.

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The local occupancy rate for hotels in Clark County in March was reported to be 43.3%, representing a 33.1% decrease when compared to that month in 2019. In April, the occupancy rate dropped to 32.3%, representing a decrease of 53% when compared to the same period last year, according to data provided by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

However, those rates began to increase in May as the occupancy rate went up to 37.1% percent and increased again to 49.8% in June, which is still a decrease of 35.9% when compared to the same month last year. in total, there has been a 32.5% drop in those occupancy rates for 2020 when compared to 2019.

As some business travel has resumed and places like the fair grounds begin to hold special events, there has been an increased effort to advertise the safety of local lodging.

The visitors bureau invested a total of $5,000 in a campaign tilted “Stay Safely” that highlighted what local hotels were doing to keep their establishments clean and safe amid the pandemic. It started in May and followed another campaign called “Keep Calm and Carry Out” that encouraged the ordering of food from local restaurants.

Schutte said he predicts a 40% to 50% drop in the economic impact of tourism this year but said he remains optimistic as travel to the county seems to be increasing based on continued communications with the visitors bureau’s partners.

Facts & Figures:

Hotel occupancy rates in Clark County during the coronavirus pandemic

43.3%: March

32.3%: April

37.1%: May

49.8%: June

$440.2 million: the economic impact of tourism in Clark County in 2019