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Tourism Towns Weigh The Importance Of Health And The Economy During Summer Months In A Pandemic

Photo of people walk along a street on a sunny day under a clear blue sky.
Ken Lund
Flickr Creative Commons
Foot traffic and tourism are picking up on Park City’s main street after months of slow business because of the COVID-19 pandemic. ";

Park City was on track for one of it’s most successful skiing seasons last winter, but things came to a halt in March when the city was identified as a COVID-19 hotspot, according to Bill Malone, president of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. 

Since June though, tourist towns in Utah have been attracting summer vacationers who are looking to get out of the house and isolation. Malone said things are slowly picking up again in Park City too, but the kindsof sales — and the volume — are different than last summer. 

“You can get somebody to drive up here and walk on Main Street and buy an ice cream cone,” Malone said, “but that's different than a J.P. Morgan group coming and spending five days entertaining everyone. Maybe there's traffic, but there's not sales in terms of tax revenue.”

Malone said July occupancy rates for nightly rentals are down 63% compared to this time last year. Most of the visitors are on short family vacations and driving from less than 500 miles away.

“Without any major events, there's really just nothing that's driving that destination visitor to come in and stay for multiple days,” Malone said.

Park City officials planned for a major hit to their budget after the potential impacts of the pandemic became obvious. City councilmember Tim Henney said for both April and May, they budgeted only 13% of the city’s usual sales tax revenue. April numbers have come in above projections, but Henney said the downside is that more tourists means more coronavirus.

“I think there's strong evidence to suggest that just the greater level of activity, people going to restaurants and being out and about more has a relationship to the higher levels of new cases,” he said. 

Since July 1, Summit County has had 142 new COVID-19 cases, according to the Utah Department of Health. 

While some local businesses are making a recovery, Henney said, others are still struggling — and there’s little appetite for another shutdown. 

“I think that there's less support today than there was three months ago for that sort of a dramatic and drastic action,” Henney said. 

He said the city has to balance the needs of businesses while making sure that Park City residents feel safe. 

Henney said the Summit County Health Department was aggressive with restrictions early in the outbreak, and Park City will continue to follow the lead of all county mandates.

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