OAKHURST — The coronavirus has quickly become a major concern for area businesses. As COVID-19 continues to spread, some local merchants say they are starting to see business slide as more and more people opt to stay close to home.
The drop off in activity appears to be hitting area hotels and motels hardest. In the past two weeks, some operators say they have seen cancellations increase two to three fold, especially from international customers, while advance bookings are also falling off, in several cases by as much as 15 to 25 percent.
U.S. Travel’s “Travel Trends” Index, released last week, forecasts international inbound travel to the U.S. will fall by 6 percent over the next three months, the largest decline since the 2007-08 financial crisis. The expected drop in visitors to Yosemite National Park — especially visitors from other countries — has local tourism officials scrambling to recalibrate their marketing plans.
Rhonda Salibury, CEO of Visit Yosemite | Madera County, quoted the U.S. Travel Index Wednesday morning when she sent out an email blast to local business owners asking how the coronavirus outbreak is impacted their operations.
Included in Salisbury’s email were two attachments — short updates and reference guides for local businesses. One included a “Coronavirus Situation Overview” issued March 5 after Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency. The other attachment was a four-page list of links, references, guidelines and resource information quickly assembled to address specific coronavirus-related health and travel concerns.
In her email blast, Salisbury also asked local merchants to respond to three questions?
- How is your March business doing – better than last year or not?
- If you are a lodging property, how are future bookings looking?
- Are you getting cancellations specifically due to the Coronavirus?
Salsibury said the Visitor’s Bureau is targeting much of their marketing efforts right now at in-state visitors. “We are concentrating on California travelers at this time, specifically target marketing through Expedia, Trip Advisor, Facebook/Instagram, YouTube, Google Adwords and targeted display ads.”
“We have not stopped or slowed down marketing,” Salisbury added. “But that might change if the travel sentiment totally takes a turn for the worse…For now, we are listening to what the authorities are saying and following their lead. We are not panicking…”
Pete Kanas at Pete’s Place Diner reported Wednesday that he has yet to see much of an impact from the coronavirus on his daily business.
“We’ve been down 20 to 30 percent for the past two months, ever since they started the [sewer line] construction project on Highway 41,” Kanas said. “But I don’t think the coronavirus has hurt daily traffic in the restaurant too much — at lest not yet.”
One area motel operator said he was “extremely” concerned about recent developments. “Every day, more people are cancelling — or cutting their trips short,” he said. “Guests are worried they’re going to get sick. I’m worried I’m going to get sick.”
The rapidly unfolding nature of the outbreak makes it difficult to predict just how severely the local economy might be impacted.
But Visit Yosemite | Madera County continues to promote the upcoming spring/summer travel season — and Salisbury says she and her staff are “doing our part to show our beautiful destination — and keeping positive.”