Cancellations, job losses mounting
March marks the beginning of the shoulder season for tourism in the Methow, but this year local hotels, motels and other tourist lodgings are also coping with the severe impacts of COVID-19: empty rooms, reservation cancellations and job losses.
Sun Mountain lodge has been able to stay open year-round for the past two years, according to Eric Christenson, the lodge’s director of sales and marketing. However, after moratoriums on public gathering sizes imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, the lodge had to close its doors.
“My guess is that this is going to continue and we’ll move those dates accordingly” if the restrictions are extended, said Christenson. The need to close the hotel was more disappointing, said Christenson, because the lodge had been on a record pace for the year with bookings.
Other Methow hotels have been chosen to stay open, focusing on booking private rooms with kitchens, as most hotel restaurants have closed.
The Freestone Inn has been running specials. “People are making reservations for our cabins and suites that have kitchens so they can cook, since our dining room is closed,” said Patty Payne, manager at the Freestone Inn. “People who are booking have said, ‘we can either stay at home in isolation or come out to the Methow.’” However, bookings are down, and cancellations are up for the Freestone, said Payne, who’s had only a couple of bookings for April.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any visitors come for a very long time because we don’t know how this is going to turn out,” said Kathleen Jardin, co-owner of Methow Reservations in Winthrop. She says her company is facing close to 100 percent cancellations. “And they’re not just canceling for March, April and May — they’re canceling weddings planned for August,” She said.
The cancellation of events in the valley has also had a major impact on bookings. The annual Zumiez sales training gathering in May has been canceled, which Jardin projects will be a multimillion-dollar hit to the valley.
The Washington State Employment Security Department reported that accommodation and food service combined make up 6.8 percent of Okanagan County jobs, with a potentially higher percentage here in the Methow Valley, and generate $54,794,000 annually, according to census data from 2012.
As a result of Methow Valley hotels closing, and reservations being canceled, Rebecca Schaaf’s company, Valley Hospitality Resources, which provides cleaning services for Methow Valley rentals, hotels and businesses, has seen a steep drop-off in business.
“We’re losing business. We’re still kind of working, but minimally that’s for sure,” said Schaaf, who has encouraged her employees to file for unemployment benefits.
Valley Hospitality Resources has also seen a change in protocol. When Schaaf gets a call for a cleaning, she will then send in a team equipped with gloves, masks and bleach. Schaaf has also been trying to leave a few days between guests checking out and sending her team in to clean, in hopes of limiting potential exposure to COVID-19.
For Schaaf, the drop-off in business is not unprecedented, as shoulder season always results in business loss this time of year. But while shoulder season has a specific timeline, COVID-19 does not.
“It’s different [from shoulder season] because it’s going to impact us down the road,” said Schaaf. “Nobody knows when this is going to be over.”