While COVID-19 continues to bring a mixed bag for the tourism industry in Shenandoah County, town and industry representatives continue to “plan with positivity.”
During Tuesday’s virtual Shenandoah County Tourism Council meeting, council members discussed some highs and lows in their neck of the woods but maintained that focusing on the positives has been helpful when navigating the pandemic’s waters.
“We’re planning with positivity that we can potentially pull some of these events off knowing that we’ll maybe have to cancel them,” said Amber Smoot, who represents the town of New Market on the council. “We’ll see what happens.”
Michelle Bixler, who represents the town of Strasburg, said businesses have reported that though business has been slow, they typically plan for slow months during the months after the holidays.
The council commended businesses that have been opening during the pandemic and those finding ways to continue their “entrepreneurial spirit.”
Stephanie Lillard, from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, told those in attendance Tuesday that it’s important to understand that they aren’t alone in their struggles and that plenty of good things have come out of the pandemic, like stronger partnerships between localities and local businesses.
“You’re not alone — we’re hearing this across the state,” she said. “It’s great to hear, though, that the revenues and businesses are doing well considering what we’re going through.”
Counting struggles and blessings sometimes on the same hand has been a common theme for the tourism industry for the past 11 months.
Nandini Patel, who represents the lodging industry on the tourism council, has said the hotel industry has been historically low since the pandemic hit. But she noted Tuesday that she’s been seeing an increase in patrons visiting the area, mainly to visit Bryce Resort in Bayse.
With that, she said more people have been staying multiple nights. Those travelers have typically been from the Northern Virginia area as folks have been taking trips closer to home while still getting out from under their own roof.
John Boor, who represents Mount Jackson and the restaurant industry, said restaurants in the area have seen more customers, too, especially on weekends and holidays.
He followed that up by adding that some larger franchise restaurants have had to increase prices because distribution and supply prices have increased. Meanwhile, smaller shops like his Curtain Call Coffeehouse Cafe have tried to keep their prices the same as to not drive customers away.
Bill Schumacher, who represents attractions on the council, said he was working on gathering data from surrounding businesses to gauge where that industry is, but he noted that outdoor activities were still doing well. With that, he said he observed that Shenandoah National Park had plenty of people over the weekend despite unpleasant weather.
In other news, Jenna French, the county’s director of tourism and economic development, said she is working on a consumer survey that would help guide budget spending and marketing decisions.
French also announced that her department had hired Kelli Williams as an intern from Lord Fairfax Community College to handle research and social media, among other items, for about two to three hours a week.
“She’s off to a running start,” Shenandoah County Tourism and Economic Development Coordinator Brenda Black said of Williams, who is in the outdoor recreation practicum at LFCC. “She’s very enthusiastic and passionate about the industry and what we have to offer. We’re excited to have her on board.”
Council members present at Tuesday’s virtual meeting were: Nandini Patel, representing the lodging industry; Bill Schumacher, representing attractions; Michelle Bixler, representing Strasburg; Katie Mercer, representing Woodstock; John Boor, representing Mount Jackson; and Amber Smoot, representing New Market.
Not present were: Randy Phillips, representing agritourism; at-large member Joe Proctor; Jackie Moe with Bryce Resort; and Dan Harshman, representing Edinburg.