May 29 – 31, 2020 Moonshine Minutes
In a normal year, Tahoe’s tourism trends could be compared to an ever-flowing hose: water on full blast in summer and winter, then a more steady-but-admirable trickle during the “shoulder” seasons. COVID-19 turned off that hose almost entirely.
I’m Alex Hoeft, news reporter for Moonshine Ink, here to share with you our latest online-exclusive stories.
After more than two months following the stay-at-home order, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is beginning to twist back on the hose for tourism, allowing restaurants and retail to reopen their doors (in a safe manner), and counties are lunging for the go-ahead. Drop-by-drop, visitor-by-nature-starved visitor, a resurgence of the tourism tap for Tahoe is on the horizon.
Bud Haley, owner of Jax at the Tracks in Truckee, said people have responded extremely positively to his restaurant’s reopening for dine-in, thankful for the establishment’s sanitization efforts and just to be out and about.
He saw encouraging numbers over Memorial Day weekend: “We also were quite surprised at the level of customers in business compared to last year. We had really nice weather. Maybe it’s a happy coincidence or a bounce, but our numbers in terms of sales were very comparable to the year prior. It was quite surprising.”
Jeff Hentz, CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, said the signs of a reemerging tourist economy are appearing: “It’s not coming all at once, which is heavily important because I don’t think any destination is ready to go from zero to 60 miles per hour.”
Hentz described Tahoe’s extreme need for visitors as a “handicap,” made ever more apparent during the coronavirus crisis.
“We don’t have a local population base around us that’s big enough to support our business community. If we didn’t have tourism and [just] the few thousands of folks that live in our community, it would be enough to support maybe five businesses, five restaurants, and a gas station or two.”
Thus, the coronavirus’ effects on life as we know it has yielded a dramatic drop in revenue not only regionally, but statewide. On April 24, Visit California released its Tourism Economics 2020 California Forecast, predicting a 50% decline in travel spending for 2020.
Hentz with the NLTRA said his team is estimating more of a 20% to 30% dip in annual visitor spending in our region thanks to the fact that the busiest months haven’t yet been lost. That’s based on a normal $800 million to $900 million annual visitor spending in a typical year. On the other hand, Colleen Dalton with the Truckee Chamber of Commerce said her team is using the 50% projection as a baseline to forecast Truckee’s immediate future.
Looking at 2018 as a comparison, visitor spending in Truckee amounted to $149 million. In 2020, when based on the 50% year-over-year decline, that $149 million would drop to $75 million in visitor spending.
Yet hopes are that local tourism revenue will be boosted by a successful statewide reopening. This past Tuesday, Newsom said approved counties may enter the early phase of stage three, with barbershops and hair/nail salons now permitted to open for the first time in over two months. Houses of worship also may reopen, however, all newly permitted entities must implement strict health and safety guidelines.
For Tahoe Mountain Fitness, a local gym, reopening likely won’t happen until the end of stage three. Owners Holly Hust and Jonathan Van Roo are making do right now with livestream and pre-recorded classes. When they’re allowed to re-open with the appropriate guidelines in place, they’ll still offer those virtual options for those who might not feel comfortable returning to live action classes.
Hust told Moonshine that exercise during a time like this goes beyond physical benefits, regardless of whether you’re working out in person or over Zoom. “It’s proven to soften the effects of stress, improve sleep, strengthen immunity. It combats a lot of outside stressors that we are encountering in a major way right now as an entire world culture — anxiety, fear, etc. [It] makes us better versions of ourselves. The better versions of people on the planet, the better for our planet as a whole! That feels like success to me.”
Lodging, meanwhile, is likely to suffer the greatest of all Truckee economic sectors, and it’s the critical puzzle piece to Tahoe’s tourist allure. Without lodging options — another assumed part of stage three, Tahoe isn’t a complete destination, minimizing traffic to the area beyond a day drive.
Alex Mourelatos, general manager of the Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort in Tahoe Vista, said he sees June 1 as the day many folks have in their mind as when lodging will reopen and Tahoe becomes the ideal escape destination. With that in mind, even as a prediction, Mourelatos plans to be ready.
“There’s been too much cost associated with compliance that it will overboil, it will overflow, and it’s going to overflow on multiple points. That’s where I start being a pragmatist. I’m not going to allow that to happen to me and my business. I am going to be prepared.”
None of this includes the possible second wave of the coronavirus, something experts say is quite likely. For Hentz with the resort association, round two could be even more debilitating — what with further financial hits and extended job loss.
The secret sauce for success isn’t pretending round two won’t happen, said Hentz; instead, it’s keeping the possibility in mind and implementing an effective and healthy approach as an entire community.
“If … we can get other communities to work together and follow each other, maybe we can avoid that potential catastrophe [of a second wave],” he continued. “Because if it does happen again, and we’re told to go back to what we’ve just gone through, that would just be catastrophic in so many ways for our business community, let alone any business community throughout the country.”
Read the full pieces online, Forecasted 20% to 50% Drop in North Tahoe Tourism Revenue and Looking Ahead, at moonshineink.com. Also find there more stories on how the global pandemic is affecting our local community. To get notified of just-published stories, sign up for our email newsletter at moonshineink.com/subscribe.
Enjoy turning on the sweet hose of summer!