Travel & Tourism Board asks visitors to rebook and stay away this spring

JACKSON, Wyo. — A joint powers board in Jackson Hole granted decision-making authority and tasked with boosting tourism in a valley almost entirely dependent on visiting sightseers for its livelihood sent a surprising message to travelers: “Stay home.”

“The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board requests that all potential visitors prioritize their own health along with the wellbeing of Jackson Hole and the surrounding communities by staying home at this time. Our finite local resources and the limited capacity of our local health care system are not adequate to support tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated the Travel & Tourism Board (TTB) late yesterday.

The board is in charge of spending money generated by Teton County’s 2% lodging tax, using it to promote travel and tourism to Jackson Hole by finding off-season community events and helping create marketing campaigns for the winter season.

Nearly 2 million visitors spent the night in Jackson in 2018, pumping into the economy an estimated $1.24 billion and generating some $65 million in local taxes. Despite playing host to travel as its lifeblood, TTB and practically the entire community is resolute in its most ‘unwelcoming’ message to anyone looking to get away to the mountains for the next few weeks.

Local government and health officials have issued emergency closures orders for most all nonessential local businesses, including restaurants, bars, fitness centers and museums, as well as the three regional ski resorts and the two neighboring national parks.

Rather than rebel against such drastic measures, most locals say they haven’t gone far enough. Even as the bustling tourist town itself shutters for “mud season” and usually takes the opportunity to travel for spring break, locals are instead isolating and trusting others are doing the same.

“Close the airport, too,” cried Christa M. in a letter to the town council. Close the hotels, say others.

One seasonal worker who wishes to remain anonymous sums up the general feelings of Jackson Hole right now as a community hankering to get out of town after a long winter but biting the bullet by sheltering in place. The last thing it wants to see is a suitcase full of sickness come to town.

“I am completely conflicted because I want a paycheck, but I also want to stay healthy as I am asthmatic and immunocompromised,” wrote the worried worker. “I work at a local hotel that is still open in the Town of Jackson, and I’m not sure why we are encouraging people to travel. I have taken phone calls from people in South Dakota and Utah who want to get away into nature while they social distance. But this puts our community at further risk. So far, we have no community spread but travelers could change all that. They can bring it here from their home state and pass it to us at the hotel or in our stores.”

Hence the strong message from the TTB.

“We encourage visitors to pause or reschedule their travel plans rather than cancel their trips altogether. Much of the community’s livelihood depends on tourism, and although we are disappointed to temporarily close our doors to would-be travelers, the health and wellbeing of everyone is our greatest priority,” its members stated.

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