A Summer Without Tourists

By: Hannah Kenneth

The Bend Oregon summer: Bonta Gelato (famed for fun flavors and wafting scents of vanilla waffle cones), guitar strumming from a concert in the nearby Old Mill, hippies congregating in Drake Park and the smell of burgers and beer emitted from the famed Deschutes brewery. Not to mention California license plates scattered throughout from those visiting the growing town and its businesses. All this and more simply a memory of summers past, but everything changes this year. 

Measures taken to battle the COVID-19 virus will seriously limit travel and social contact likely resulting in a significant blow to Summertime revenue and, consequently, Bend’s economy. 

“About 4.5 million visitors come to Central Oregon each year,” said Bend Chief Financial Officer, Sharon Wojda. “About 69% of the lodging tax revenues received by the City (about $10 million dollars) are used to support street maintenance, police, fire, and other core services. The remainder is dedicated to tourism promotion”.

Without the vital source of income coming from tourists many shops will not be able to function at their normal rate and this could reflect directly back onto employees in downtown Bend and the Old Mill District, which roughly 65 percent of visitors polled said they had or planned to visit.

“Businesses are changing a lot and adjusting to circumstances. Bonta is trying to have [only] the employees who need to pay bills and student loans working. When [COVID-19] is all over we’re not just going to go back to normal, it will take some time,” said Abbey Shea, Bonta worker and Storm Sophomore. “I expect to have a job this summer but depending on what happens maybe not. I don’t think everyone is going to feel 100% safe when this is claimed to be over”.

One of the main attractions in Bend are its many beautiful trails, parks and campsites. Currently State Parks are closed as are all developed Deschutes National Forest areas, including trail heads like Phi’ls and snow parks and campsites. Come summer there may still be restrictions on the usage of parks and national forest land due to the severity and concerns surrounding the virus.

Despite the lack of tourists it’s the locals that are seeing the changes first hand and have a real idea about what Bends economy might look like without this vital source of revenue.

“The closure of state parks will affect the jobs of the people that work to maintain our local state parks and it will also negatively affect tourism…both of these will have a large negative impact on our economy,” said Jack Skidmore, lifetime Bend local and Storm Junior. “Locals will definitely be upset not being able to go to these state parks, but we will probably see a more serious impact on the economy.”

Despite all that is going on, Bend has a plan.

“The City is going through a process to propose budget reductions to the City Council,” Wojda said. “We have worked with Visit Bend to estimate the slowdown in travel and tourism activity that may last through the summer, and the budget reductions we are proposing incorporate a phased in approach, based on activity”.

This plan will work at keeping the economy afloat by prioritizing and cutting down on certain things so that Bend can keep running until things can go back to normal. 

As things continue in this uncertain and isolated time, Bend’s community and its leaders are working hard to ensure the safest and most productive summer possible. Locals need only do their part and stay home so that everyone can return to doing the things they love and enjoying the beauty of Bend this summer. 

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