LOCAL NEWS

Visit Seattle supportive of governor’s travel advisory, encourages safety

Nov 13, 2020, 4:18 PM | Updated: 4:52 pm
Visit Seattle...
Normally busy downtown streets are virtually empty at rush hour due to coronavirus fears on March 12, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

It’s an organization that exists to promote tourism in Seattle and the surrounding region, but Visit Seattle is supporting the travel advisory issued by Governor Inslee, along with the governors of Oregon and California.

The recommendation asks residents not to travel, or to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in the state.

“I think the governor’s recommended quarantine is a smart and a wise move … it’s a good first step,” Visit Seattle President and CEO Tom Norwalk said. “We’ve been building to this, sadly, over the last month.”

If you must travel for the holidays, ‘be informed of the risks involved’

He said that Visit Seattle and the industry realize that controlling infections is the only way to work toward a light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. Norwalk believes another lockdown is “a ways off, if at all,” but if science determines it is necessary, he would support that, too.

Over the duration of the pandemic, Visit Seattle has stepped back from its normal marketing activities and taken the same stance as the governor.

“It’s the hardest thing we’ve had to do — we are basically a marketing and promotion entity, cheerleaders for this region, for travel, at all costs, and so we’ve spent eight months not encouraging non-essential travel, canceling major national conventions that were scheduled to come into our city and our region,” Norwalk said. “It’s the opposite of what we normally do … we’ve agreed with leadership at the city, county, and state level, and so we have not been promoting travel.”

Help support Seattle businesses

It was a devastating decision, Norwalk said, because the organization exists to encourage people to visit Seattle and its businesses.

Instead, they are strongly encouraging residents to go downtown, shop local, and support the small businesses struggling to survive.

“We’ve painfully come through eight-and-a-half months of really seeing travel and tourism just absolutely disappear,” Norwalk said. “There’s a number of us who didn’t think we’d be quite in this same position eight months in, and so the financial hardship and the impact certainly is there.”

Hotels, restaurants, and shops that rely on visitors have had an uphill battle throughout the spring, summer, and fall. With international travel at a halt, cruises nonexistent, and people everywhere staying home, there has been very little tourism in Seattle.

Norwalk pointed out that last week, hotels downtown were at 17% occupancy; a year ago at the same time time, they were at 90%.

$3.4 billion drop

The Washington Hospitality Association reported that hospitality was down more than 50% statewide from April through June, amounting to a $3.4 billion drop. Hotels took the steepest hit during that time period, with a decline of nearly 80%.

The association estimates that more than a third of the state’s restaurants will have to shutter — even without another lockdown.

The new, virtual line of thinking about holidays this year is a switch from the more optimistic look that some people may have had two months ago when new cases were on the decline, Norwalk said.

“So many of us grew up around here and did holiday shows or roasted chestnuts in front of the Olympic Hotel, or gingerbread houses, and I think a lot of that changes this year,” he said.

This adjustment to holidays is a very tough reality for small businesses that were hoping the holiday season, with Christmas shopping and relatives from out of town visiting, could bring some much-needed commerce.

“It’ll be a different year — and that’s a very hard thing to understand if you’re a business operator that’s been waiting and trying to patiently figure out a way to survive eight-and-a-half months of what we’ve been through, for some type of sign of recovery,” Norwalk said.

Hope for Seattle in 2021

In the meantime, he hopes for another stimulus package from Congress.

“That would be immensely helpful for our industry specifically,” he said. “I think travel and tourism have been disproportionately hit, in terms of unemployment and business closure.”

Still, the outlook for the post-pandemic future is bright. Norwalk said that Seattle had been growing at an extremely fast rate as an international tourism destination in the last decade. Visit Seattle is hopeful that next year, as people are eager to start traveling again, Seattle will see a big boost in tourism.

“As we get safer, that need and that desire to travel is going to be there … Travel is not going to disappear forever,” Norwalk said.

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Visit Seattle supportive of governor’s travel advisory, encourages safety