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.
“There are a lot of people getting on the lake to social distance,” but ramp closures “have kind of delayed people getting onto the lake,” she said.
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.
Meanwhile, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests is shutting down several trails “to prevent groups from congregating and to protect public health and safety,” its website states. The closure affects several popular trails in Northeast Georgia such as Yonah Mountain and Raven Cliffs Falls trails, among many others and recreation and camping areas.
Gainesville Attractions Respond with Creative Programs and Services
A couple of Gainesville attractions have closed their doors but have gotten creative in other ways. “A little secret about INK is that we have an educational gift shop,” said Mandy Volpe, executive director of Interactive Neighborhood for Kids in Gainesville. “We are working with families over the phone and through our social media sites to curate gifts to shop for families.
“We know that the toys in our gift shop spark imagination and can bring that same hands-on experience that we have in our traditional exhibits,” she said.
Otherwise, “we have increased our cleaning and have conducted a deep clean and disinfectant to the entire museum,” Volpe said.
Also closing its doors is the Northeast Georgia History Center, which is providing online content that’s “tied directly to state curriculum standards, so that they can be incorporated into learning-from-home models,” executive director Glen Kyle said.
“We’re going to continue to do so as long as we need to. And those live programs are not only for adults and for kids, but they are interactive, allowing viewers to ask questions and get answers in real time,” he said.
Kyle added, “I think it’s in times of crisis that education is more important than ever, especially history education. History can’t make our decisions for us: the past is, indeed, in the past. It can, however, provide so many lessons to us and inform our decisions going forward.”