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Op-Ed: Big Sky and the novel coronavirus




Right now all of us wish we had a crystal ball to see into the future. We want to know how the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact us as individuals, as well as our friends and families, our children’s schools, our businesses and employees, our coworkers, our communities, our state, our nation and the world. But no one knows.

What we do know is that travel over the next six months will be affected despite the fact that federal public health officials have issued no warnings or restrictions on travel anywhere in the U.S. 

Currently Montana is reporting zero cases of COVID-19, yet the state’s tourism industry is bracing for a downturn in nonresident visitation for the upcoming summer season when typically, millions of people from around the world flock to our national parks.

Here in Big Sky, a community born out of a tourist destination, travel is part of our DNA. Visit Big Sky, as Big Sky’s official destination management and marketing organization, urges you—the traveling public—to stay informed, to seek information from reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with local and state public health authorities, and to take preventative measures like washing your hands to protect against COVID-19; but we urge you to continue to travel.

“We are monitoring daily developments from the U.S. Travel Association and the multiagency Coronavirus Task Force assembled by Gov. Steve Bullock here in Montana,” said Candace Strauss, CEO of Visit Big Sky. “Representatives from the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development at Department of Commerce, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, and Disaster and Emergency Services, and regional and local tourism boards like Visit Big Sky are all working to ensure Montana is prepared to address a local COVID-19 outbreak.”

This May 3-9 is National Travel and Tourism Week when the tourism industry celebrates the power of travel; travel is trade; travel is commerce; travel is jobs. As America’s No. 1 service export, #TravelWorks supported 5.29 million jobs and contributed nearly $1.1 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2018. In Montana, that equates to 42,000 jobs supporting the 12.2 million nonresident visitors who spent $3.7 billion here.

In Big Sky specifically, the visitor economy generated $8 million in resort tax collections in 2018-19 that funded everything from public services including fire and sheriff services, affordable housing, infrastructure development, public transit, parks and trails, conservation, and finally, tourism development and promotion.

Our visitor economy is fragile. Consumers always have a choice of where to travel. When they choose Big Sky that means we can continue to live the life we lead here. It allows us to continue to live the dream.

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