QUEENSBURY — Warren County hospitality officials are working diligently to make sure that tourists will feel welcome and safe when they visit after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown is lifted.
The stakes are high. Frank Dittrich, general manager of the Inn at Erlowest and Sun Castle Resort, said the region gets one swing at bat to make the case that Warren County is reopen for business and ready for visitors.
“If we stumble, we’re dead,” he said at a meeting of the Warren County Economic Growth and Development and Higher Education Committee. The meeting was held virtually through teleconference on Monday.
Dittrich is part of the Warren County reopening commission, which is a collation of business, tourism and government officials.
Dittrich said the working group has been working on developing best practices and procedures on things like social distancing, sanitization, face coverings and other information that can be conveyed to the various tourism businesses.
People still do have an interest in visiting the area. A total of 85% of people in a survey conducted by the Warren County Tourism Department indicated they plan to take a vacation in 2020.
“That’s a whole lot of people ready to travel — most of them in July or August of this year,” said Tourism Director Joanne Conley.
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The county distributed the survey by using the guest lists of various area tourism-related businesses. About 60,000 to 70,000 were sent out and 3,500 were returned.
The most popular activity cited by tourists that they wanted to do in the area was hike — named by about 54% of those who responded.
People also wanted to patronize restaurants, but they were concerned about large gatherings, according to Conley.
They also indicated that they would wear face masks and practice hand washing and social distancing when they visit.
“When you read the comments, people are most concerned about safety, so we need to recognize that safety is our priority. When we are ready to reopen, we need our guests to know that safely protocols are in place. And we need to get that message across to them. You can come and safely vacation in Warren County this summer.”
About half of the people who filled out the survey were from the downstate metro area, according to Conley.
Dittrich said the economic recovery will not be immediate. He pointed out that it took about five years for the region to recover from the Great Recession.
“Assume we do not lose the 2020 season; if we’re able to get open and generate results this year — think 50% at this point,” he said.
Another survey that has been conducted but not yet been completed to be released is about the impact COVID-19 is having on small businesses. The news is not good, according to EDC Warren County President Edward Bartholomew.
“Many, many small businesses are in jeopardy. Even in the best of times the last couple of years, the small businesses have been struggling for a variety of reasons,” he said.
The county has to be focused on efforts to help them. Bartholomew added that there is still money available in the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program.
When can the county reopen?
As for when Warren County might be able to reopen, the Capital Region only has met five of the seven criteria to trigger the lifting of the shutdown. The criteria includes the infection rate, availability of testing, hospital capacity and the availability of tracers to track COVID-19 infections.
The two criteria not met are a 14-day net decline in hospitalizations and deaths due to the coronavirus.
Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore said the county itself meets a number of the metrics including having fewer than five deaths in a hospital over an average three-day period and Glens Falls Hospital has the 30% surge capacity. However, the Capital Region as a whole has to meet these metrics.
The county needs to have almost 2,000 testing kits on hand to meet another metric, according to Moore. He said they are slowly building up an inventory with the help of another 500 COVID-19 testing kits the county received last week from the state.
They also have to have 20 contact tracers. Moore said Warren County Public Health Services has 28 county employees who are being trained and another 14 volunteers receiving training.
He said there is the possibility that Warren County may not meet one or two of the criteria, but the region is allowed to reopen because the Capital Region has checked all the boxes.
Bartholomew also advised against Warren and Washington counties attempting to become part of the North Country rather than the Capital Region economic development group. Such a change would mean that the local area would be reporting to entities with offices in Plattsburgh and Watertown.
Queensbury-At-Large Supervisor Mike Wild said the message the region needs to convey is that it is ready to reopen — whenever that happens. He urged people to wear masks and practice social distancing so the county can stop the spread of the virus and reopen.
“The fear is if we open too soon and we’re not careful, we can get shut down and we don’t have the leverage to be able to extend our tourism season, much longer than the summer,” he said. “So, it’s a risk that everyone is going to be taking and we just need everybody to pitch in.”