The coronavirus pandemic has hurt businesses throughout Yuma County, and the executive director of Visit Yuma notes it’s also changing the way people spend their time and money. Now, Visit Yuma is hoping some of those changes might one day benefit the region.
“Clearly people aren’t traveling, and it affects, obviously, hotels but also restaurants and retail,” said executive director Linda Morgan. “We’re seeing a dramatic loss in the form of tax dollars, mostly sales tax, and spent dollars.”
Morgan said that numbers from the end of March show hotel occupancy in Yuma is down 60 percent and the average daily rate of hotel occupancy is 16 percent.
“It’s bad,” she said. “We’re hoping this starts to improve soon.”
Looking ahead shows a much better picture, and Morgan said that it’s important to see the silver lining that benefits rural areas like Yuma in tourism.
“Every conference call I’ve taken in the past few weeks, there are people saying that leisure travel is what’s going to start off when people start going out again,” she said. Leisure travel means weekend travel in a car to a nearby area as opposed to air travel.
Morgan said people will avoid planes because they’re enclosed spaces, so they’re going to defer to cars for trips, which will have to take them close. This means people in urban areas will stay within a comfortable driving distance to home for their vacations, which means Yuma should start drawing drivers from urban areas like Phoenix or Las Vegas, she said.
Additionally, Morgan said that people will be searching for rural areas where they can still practice some social distancing, but many people will also be in search of a place to stretch out after being indoors so long.
“People are looking for wide open spaces when they go away now, but they’re still focused on having some distance from other people,” she said. “This bodes well for us because we can draw from San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix.”
Morgan said that in January, regular surveys that Visit Yuma used signaled a trend toward more urban vacationing before the pandemic. Now, Morgan said that once people start going out and vacationing again, Yuma could benefit from tourism to the Colorado River, the Imperial Sand Dunes and nearby trail and park systems. She said she expects the Colorado River State Historic Park and the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park to benefit.
Yuma could start seeing this ahead of the summer months, which Morgan said typically have lower tourism numbers for Yuma, but that nothing is certain right now,. Morgan expects April to be another down month, but after that, she said hospitality in Yuma, which includes restaurants, hotels and retail should start inching back up. She added that conferences have already been booked in Yuma for September, October and November.
“This all depends on what happens, but if we’re able to flatten the curve, we could see an uptick in hospitality by the end of the year,” she said.