Tourism director calls impact of coronavirus a disaster

Tourism Director Julie Hollist Terrill told members of the Cache County Council that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the local hotel and restaurant industries has been a disaster.

CACHE COUNTY – The only word to describe the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on hotels and restaurants in Cache Valley is “disaster.”

That was the candid assessment of Tourism Director Julie Hollist Terrill in a report to members of the Cache County Council on June 9.

“We’re in a terrible situation as far as the tourism industry goes,” she admitted. “We’ve probably been devastated more than any other industry in our state and our nation.”

Although it was anticipated, the details of the bad news were still a bitter pill for council members to swallow. Much of Cache County’s revenue comes from sales taxes on purchases related to tourism, especially the county’s RAPZ (Recreation, Arts, Parks and Zoos) and restaurant taxes.

“In March of this year, I was really sad because our room occupancy rate (in local hotels) went down to 41.6 percent,” Terrill said, noting that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic was only starting to be felt around mid-March. “By April, our hotels only reported 27.4 percent occupancy. That compares to 53.9 percent occupancy in April of 2019, which had actually been a little low for a normal April.”

To make matters worse, Terrill said the average rate being charged for a room per night in April was only $68, compared to $90 a night a year ago.

“That means that we’re renting a lot fewer rooms and getting a lot less money for each rental, about 24 percent less,” she added.

Another measure of success in the hotel industry is revenue per room, which combines the number of rooms rented and the rental rate, divided by the total number of rooms available.

“We’re down there, too,” Terrill explained. “Last year at this time, our revenue per room was $48.86. This year, it’s $16.96.”

While acknowledging that the loss of business for local hotels is “pretty alarming,” the tourism director said the problem is statewide. For example, the occupancy rate for hotel rooms in Salt Lake County was 71 percent in April of 2019. This year, it was 17 percent.

Terrill’s best estimate of the impact of that business loss on Cache County coffers is that monthly tax revenues on room rentals for the second quarter of 2020 will likely be around $15,000, compared to an average $57,000 per month last year.

Terrill said Cache Valley restaurants were also hard-hit by the pandemic, thanks to state social distancing guidelines that closed public dining rooms in mid-March.

A partial rebound is underway in the restaurant community, however. Terrill said that local eateries that initially reported a loss of 80- to 90-percent of their business were able to make a paradigm shift to curbside pick-up and home delivery of their meals.

“After a period of adaptation, a lot of our restaurants are now running two business models under a single roof,” Terrill explained, one for take-out service and another for limited dining-in under the now relaxed statewide Yellow/Low risk status. “But there were complications we didn’t foresee. Some of them are now managing separate staffs for sanitation and food ordering. The additional costs were also surprising; switching to deliver and curbside service resulted in some restaurants reporting their expenses are up by 20- or 30-percent for take-home packaging.”

But anecdotal reports from both hotel and restaurant managers are still grim.

Terrill said that the Riverwoods Conference Center reported losing two large bookings due to recent media reports about a new spike in coronavirus cases in Cache Valley.

A valley catering service also reported having lost up to $1 million in business contracts.

The only bright spots in an otherwise bleak situation, Terrill concluded, is that drive-thru food and drink shops are doing well and the Anniversary Inn is keeping busy accommodating couples eager to escape from their own homes.

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9 Comments

  • Kim June 11, 2020 at 7:37 am Reply

    The thing people remember about early 1900’s is not Spanish Flu (1918)
    It’s the Roaring 20’s. It’s the Prohibition Era. Then the Great Depression Era, and WWII, and endless wars since then.
    What good is your hotel if Cache Valley is making people sick by keeping open hotspots like JBS?
    The point of flattening the curve is so we don’t all get sick at the same time. If getting sick is inevitable, fine, but we don’t all have to do it together. The money that would be spent on tourism is being spent on a hospital bill.
    When you worship Money and Capitalism, those things will still be there.
    You who hold the Bible to be true, read Leviticus chapter 13 and do what you can to eradicate disease in our community.

    • S June 11, 2020 at 5:12 pm Reply

      Amen!!

  • kim m June 11, 2020 at 8:51 am Reply

    Kim,you’re right.thats whats sad is to see that people just don’t care that people are getting sick and dying.They would rather have things be back to normal and have an “oh well” attititude if people get sick from coronavirus.The first time a person infected has stayed at a hotel,then others that stay there (and employees)will get it too,and on and on and on.I understand we have no choice but to have certain businesses open,but there should be a limit to that,even if the other businesses have to file bankruptcy and go into another type of business.And what about our precious little children,the future of this planet,we should want to do everything we can to protect them.My grandparents never went out to eat,never stayed in a hotel even once in their lifetime,never flew on a plane.They grew most of their own fruit and vegetables,raised chickens and pigs,and grandpa worked at the sawmill(which was a necessary business).They were happy,a vacation was going on a sunday drive or a picnic(with food they prepared).I personally think the Lord is giving us a message loud and clear….slow down you’re life,live simple,count the blessings you do have,enjoy you’re home and the daily acts of living,quit chasing money and the “high life”.You can’t take it with you when you pass on.

    • S June 11, 2020 at 5:14 pm Reply

      Amen!!

  • Anon June 11, 2020 at 4:35 pm Reply

    Come for a luxurious stay in one of the country’s hot spots. Even if we go green we will lose a lot of business from people who have choices about where they would feel comfortable vacationing and won’t travel all the way up to this neck of the woods but instead bypass it. Those concerned for the economy should consider that in their long term planning

  • Mark June 11, 2020 at 6:31 pm Reply

    Visit Logan, top growing hotspot for SARs and win a chance to claim your free souvenir: COVID -19

  • kim m June 12, 2020 at 3:24 pm Reply

    Ha Ha! Right on Mark!

  • Blayne June 12, 2020 at 9:35 pm Reply

    Oh no! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Do you all drink the same depressing koolaid? How about the fact that 99.9% of Cache Valley cases have not been hospitalized. And if you do get it, you have a 98% chance of recovering. Stop feeding the fear, everyone is tired of it.

    • Kim June 13, 2020 at 1:27 pm Reply

      Sure, we’re all tired of being afraid. But dying for the economy is not bravery. It’s not courageous to watch loved ones fall ill. Strategize and survive. Please wear a mask when you go out and wash your hands.
      Humanity has become complacent about disease because we have developed so many cures, remedies, and vaccines. Don’t let your guard down for the invisible enemy!

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