What Tourism Officials Say About the Coronavirus’ Impact Locally
Story by Jeff Gill
The Times, March 28, 2020
You have a problem with measurements if you can’t social distance at 1,500-acre Lanier Islands resort in South Hall.
With walkways, boat slips that open to Lake Lanier and other wide open spaces, people separating by 6 feet should be doable — or at least that’s what resort officials hope visitors think amid a tourism industry that’s been hammered by the coronavirus.
Lanier Islands is Open and Ready for Social Distancing Activities
“It’s not lost on us that many families had hoped to enjoy spring break during this time and children are experiencing an unprecedented change to their daily lives,” said Grier Todd, chief operations officer at the resort. “We’ve taken every precaution laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and have developed some innovative ways for families to enjoy quality time together while social distancing from others at our 1,500-acre destination.”
Tourism, a huge part of the Hall County area’s economy, has taken a severe downturn in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, local officials have said. “Our hotels, attractions, retailers and restaurants are all feeling the impact,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Some have had to temporarily close, lay off workers, and hope they are able to sustain their basic operational costs — rent, utilities etc. — until this event passes. The resort hasn’t been exempt from hardship, as it offers meeting space for groups. Even before a state ban on gatherings of 10 or more people, the resort was following the CDC recommendation for that, Todd said. “We’re working with (groups) and helping them reschedule or whatever,” he said. “It’ll pay off for us at the end of the day.” Hourly staff is seeing hours cut in the meantime. “We don’t have anything for them,” Todd said. “We’re trying to give our core staff a couple days a week to keep them going.”
Boating and other Water Sport Activities
The Army Corps of Engineers has closed many of its recreation areas around Lake Lanier, with the list on Facebook.
Corps spokesman Chuck Walker has said the areas where people were most likely to come into contact with others have been closed. The corps will monitor the virus and reopen the parks when the virus is no longer a health threat, he said. Boat traffic on Lake Lanier, which typically draws millions of visitors per year, has been a “mixed bag,” said Jennifer Flowers, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association.
Evan Davis of Singleton Marine Group at Holiday Marina in Buford said, “with students out of school doing digital learning days, restrictions around travel, and more people working from home, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of people enjoying the lake as if they were on an extended spring break.”
Georgia Mountains Destinations Also Responding to Impact of Virus
North Georgia’s other big tourist destination, the mountains, also is taking a hit.
“Quarantining, social distancing is making things a little difficult for us,” said Beth Truelove, president of White County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re just working together and supporting each other. I think that once the shock has passed, we’ll be able to do very well.” Some businesses in downtown Helen have closed, taking their commerce online, she said.