Please support the Valley News during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the local economy — and many of the advertisers who support our work — to a near standstill. During this unprecedented challenge, we continue to make our coronavirus coverage free to everyone at www.vnews.com/coronavirus because we feel our most critical mission is to deliver vital information to our communities.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, we are asking for your support. Please consider subscribing or making a donation today. Learn more at the links below.

Thank you for your support of the Valley News.

Dan McClory, publisher


Upper Valley businesses grapple with drop in tourism during coronavirus

  • At the Woodstock Inn & Resort, Crys Szekely, the special events manager, and Anton Vicar, the restaurant director, rearrange tables in the Red Rooster Restaurant at the inn on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. The resort reopened for guests on July 1, since shutting down due to the pandemic. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ashton Mikan and Samantha Zace, of Plainville, Conn., put their tent up at Quechee State Park on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Quechee, Vt. With so many events canceled due to COVID-19, the couple came north to camp for three nights. They have visited the campground one other time. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Amy Kaminski, left, and Makenna Hodgdon, both servers at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, use hand sanitizer while organizing wine glasses at the inn on Wednesday, July, 1, 2020, in Woodstock, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Courtney Lowe, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, demonstrates a thermal scanner in the lobby of the inn on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Woodstock, Vt. Reopening on July 1 for guests for the first time since March 15, all incoming clients will have their temperature taken and will have to sign a Vermont Certificate of Compliance. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Heather Eldridge, co-manager of Quechee State Park, works from the office on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Quechee, Vt. The park has closed 12 campsites at the park for social distancing reasons. Bathrooms and showers will be cleaned more often throughout the day. Guests at the State Park will have to sign a Vermont Certificate of Compliance. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Heather Eldridge, co-manager at Quechee State Park, hands a park map to Marc Arcieri of Woodstock, Conn., on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Quechee, Vt. Arcieri is a construction worker has been working on a project in Hanover, N.H. The park has closed 12 campsites for social distancing reasons. Bathrooms and showers will be cleaned more often throughout the day. Guests at the State Park will have to sign a Vermont Certificate of Compliance. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 7/4/2020 9:32:31 PM
Modified: 7/4/2020 9:32:28 PM

John Hallowell spent much of last week dodging downpours to inspect each bit of the Woodstock Inn & Resort — the spa, the athletic club, the restaurant, the golf course, the new outdoor activity center — to make sure everything complied with coronavirus protocols before the luxury resort reopened Wednesday.

“If there was ever a time for people to enjoy what we have to offer, this is the time,” said Hallowell, president of the 142-room resort that had closed for nearly four months because of the pandemic. “Guests are anxious to come back.”

No doubt. The only question now is how many guests will show up in the months ahead.

As the long Fourth of July holiday weekend approached, many tourism-focused Upper Valley businesses reopened last week, looking at a summer that promises to be very different from prior years. From extra room-cleaning measures to curtailing direct contact with visitors, the hospitality industry is reemerging into a world that many expect to be smaller, slower and more burdensome in the months — if not years — ahead.

“It’s going to be less than what we experienced last summer,” Hallowell acknowledged about the bookings he expects the inn to see this summer. “You can’t go from zero to 60 overnight. But it appears to be going in the right direction.”

Lodging establishments in Vermont are now subject to myriad and complex new restrictions on how they may accept guests, including visitors self-certifying that they are traveling from a county with a low number of active COVID-19 cases, have traveled in their own car and — if they fall outside those parameters — quarantined in their home state for 14 days or seven days if followed by a negative COVID-19 test before entering Vermont.

Hotels are further limited to 50% capacity, which means about 70 rooms in the Woodstock Inn’s case.

Despite those current restrictions, Hallowell said the inn was “near capacity” for the Fourth of July weekend, with many of the guest bookings occurring only in the prior week.

“If you had asked me a couple weeks ago, I wouldn’t have thought that,” Hallowell said.

He was reluctant to project business the rest of the summer but nonetheless said the last-minute surge before the holiday was “encouraging sign that there is an appetite for travel to here.”

The reopening didn’t go so smoothly for other Woodstock innkeekers, including Jill and Tony Amato, who own the Blue Horse Inn in Woodstock.

Although they reopened in time for Memorial Day weekend, “the restrictions were so heavy, we didn’t get any guests,” Jill Amato said.

Guest reservations at the 10-room B&B in the west end of the village are slowly beginning to trickle back, but she said she expects business to be soft for the foreseeable future.

“Last year at this time, we were sold out every weekend and 70% to 80% during the week. Right now, we’re lucky to be 10% to 40%,” she said.

During the more than three months the hospitality industry was shut down, inn operators used the time to work on delayed repair projects, deep-clean guest rooms, train staff in protocols for the eventual reopening and rearrange the furniture to accommodate social distancing.

Karim Houry, who with his wife, Isabelle Chicoine, owns the nine-room Woodstocker B&B in Woodstock, said he “fixed the fence, did some carpentry work, caulked in the bathroom ... that’s the only silver lining.”

Buses not so busy

A big source of tourist spending is the buses that roll through Quechee and Woodstock during the summer and foliage season, loaded with visitors from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Quebec.

“I’ve even seen them from Michigan,” said PJ Skehan, executive director of the Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce, who keeps tabs on what pulls into the parking lot from his office window at the Quechee Gorge Visitor Center.

Skehan said the gorge gets 60,000-70,000 visitors in the peak season that runs May to October.

“I don’t foresee there will be many buses. I can’t imagine,” Skehan said. “That’s a big loss of income.”

Also a big loss of income was the cancellation of the annual Quechee Balloon Festival, which traditionally takes place over Father’s Day weekend in June. The event was initially postponed until September before it was canceled altogether.

Skehan said the event is the chamber’s biggest source of income and pumps more than $1 million into the local economy. Not this year, with coronavirus concerns.

“It would have been difficult to put 10,000 people on the green in Quechee,” he said.

Shops see a drop

Even as summer events are canceled and traffic is down, those who come to Vermont appear to be opening their wallets, at least in one Woodstock store.

The summer, with its steady stream of tourists, is usually the busiest time of year for Jeff Kahn, owner of the eclectic gift shop Unicorn (latest arrival: a wearable “dual neck fan” that looks like headphones with twin rotors that blow a breeze up toward the face).

Kahn, who reopened his store in late May, said he’s been pleasantly surprised. “I’ve had more business than I expected,” he said.

Nonetheless, based on the foot traffic Unicorn has seen in June, “I’m expecting that we will do three-quarters of what we would normally do once we are into July.”

He called it “at least a survivable figure and one in which I can keep my employees employed.”

The absence of tourists is also hurting the Vermont Antique Mall on Route 5, where 100 antique dealers have stalls inside an approximately 16,000-square-foot space.

Cindy Walker, who owns and operates the mall with her husband, Mark Walker, said they reopened Memorial Day weekend after being closed since the middle of March.

“I’d say we’re at 25% of our normal business,” she said, pointing to both the downturn in traffic and limits on the number of people in the mall — about a quarter of capacity.

And some stalls are closed because their owners are older and in a high-risk age category, she said.

“It’s just people doing day trips and our local folks who shop with us,” Walker said.

Indeed, the fate of much of the Upper Valley tourism economy may be in the hands of those closer to home, so to speak.

Scott Milne, owner of Milne Travel, the Vermont-based travel planning agency that specializes in corporate meetings, said that arrangements for corporate events are typically booked 12 months in advance and that business is “totally dead.”

But he noted there are 20 million people who live and work within a four-hour drive of Vermont and, as more restrictions are lifted and barring another wave of virus infections sweeping the region, he can see Green Mountain State tourism benefiting from Northeast businesses wanting to keep their corporate events closer to home.

“What makes me optimistic about northern New England is I think people are going to feel comfortable driving five to six hours long before the feel comfortable again about getting on a plane for five to six hours,” Milne said. “As things ramp up later this year, that should be good for Vermont.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2019 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy