Every May we commemorate National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW) to celebrate the value travel holds for our economy, businesses, and personal wellbeing. This year’s NTTW theme is “Spirit of Travel.”
As we look at the recent events and the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and how it has forever altered communities and lives around the world, it proves difficult to celebrate anything at the moment. However, now more than ever is the time for us to band together in support of the industry that offers so much hope, joy and inspiration.
Almost 1 million people in North Carolina are currently unemployed with 75 percent of our hospitality workers jobless. Many of our local Jackson County businesses have shuttered their operations, closed their doors, and are wondering if they can ever afford to reopen.
People have lost jobs and their livelihoods. Businesses have to take out loans and dig the hole deeper only to have hope of one day rebounding. Federal funding programs have fallen far short of helping our smallest and most vulnerable businesses.
Last month alone, we lost $11.6 million in visitor spending at our local businesses. By the time you add in resident spending, it’s an even deeper cut into our economy.
To say these are challenging times is a vast understatement, but with every challenge, comes opportunity … and hope for a brighter future.
In Jackson County, there is an overwhelming sense of pride in the community, and rightfully so.
Our county, its citizens, healthcare workers, public safety officials, elected officials, school teachers, restaurant owners, small businesses and others have gone above and beyond to come together and work harder and smarter than ever before. I could not be prouder of this community where I grew up and call home. It’s easy to look at this pandemic and focus on the negative effects it has had on our lives, but I encourage you to shift that way of thinking and celebrate every small thing that is going well – your health, your friendships, your family, your faith, our beautiful mountains, and find joy in all of them.
Right now, it is a make or break point for many of our small businesses. Many of our restaurants may face difficult challenges of ever reopening. They need your support now more than ever before. I understand that there is some apprehension about getting takeout but rest assured that we and our Chamber partners have been working with our restaurants and entire industry over the past month to implement enhanced cleaning and safety protocols.
If you want your favorite small independent restaurant to be there when this is over, now is the time to support them. Support small businesses that have donated to your child’s fundraisers by buying a gift card for a future trip. “Shop local” has never meant more than right now.
In the coming weeks and months, visitors will start to slowly return. In neighboring states, this has already begun. Although there may be some apprehension and fear of allowing outsiders back into our close-knit mountain community, the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority has been working closely with tourism and health officials to develop a phased approach targeted towards bringing people back.
I serve on the State Recovery task force and the Jackson County Recovery task force. We are working on the safest and best way to reopen, and by doing so, stimulate our economy and bring back jobs.
Although the numbers will start to come back slowly and gradually, we along with elected officials, want to make sure when people return, it is in a way that puts the health and safety of our residents and the employees of our businesses first. We’ve been working with the Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development, Small Business Centers, Senate leadership, the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, State Tourism Office and others to ensure our community, its businesses and restaurants are ahead of the curve in being prepared with the best practices to reopen and when the time is right, welcome back travelers.
Our role over the last two months has shifted from marketing the destination to supporting the community, its workers, and planning for recovery.
This is a new normal for all of us, and we will all have to navigate it together, but we will come out of it stronger as a community. While it’s easy to find the negative in any situation, let’s take a moment to celebrate the good.
Let’s assume the best in people; let’s reconnect with friends over the phone; let’s support our small local businesses that desperately need your help now more than ever; let’s learn new things in our spare time; let’s get outdoors and hike; let’s build our community up; let’s celebrate the beauty that surrounds us every day in this amazing place we are so fortunate to call home.
Nick Breedlove is director of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority.