In the months during a normal spring term at Oregon State University, thousands of students are visited by their families for school-sanctioned events including Spring Family Weekend and Commencement, creating an influx of travel into Corvallis, Ore. and a boost to the local economy.
Restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses rely on the months between April and June to bring in enough revenue to balance out the slower months of the year.
2020 was an exception.
“In March, we were probably down about 50% [in comparison to 2019],” said Christina Rehklau, executive director for Visit Corvallis. “In April… for demand, we hit rock bottom. At that point, really all of what we were seeing was first responders [lodging].”
Rehklau keeps track of the yearly revenue from traditional lodging, which includes all commercial hotels and inns, but does not include private lodgings like AIRBNB. She notes that although there are no official OSU events in April that bring in large travel numbers, Mother’s Day weekend shows just as much revenue in lodging and restaurants as Spring Family Weekend and Commencement.
Although tourism organizations cannot promote travel directly, Rekhlau notes that there has been an increase in leisurely travel throughout the month of June. This makes what was a 22% occupancy in traditional lodging for the month of May increase to approximately 40% by the end of the month.
“We’ve been doing sometimes worse than the winter months because everything is being canceled and no one is traveling at all,” said Jessie Brambila, manager at the Days Inn in Corvallis.
Along with Commencement and Spring Family Weekend, the cancellation of March OSU sporting events caused a large decline in travel as well, according to Rehklau.
With the reopening of the state in phase two, per Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s phase regulations, all businesses in Corvallis have to come up with unique solutions to get back on their feet. Over the past three months, Corvallis Chamber of Commerce President Simon Date has been working with small businesses in town to maintain income despite the restrictions.
“Thankfully we’re back to opening now, but even now, you know restaurants have to pretty much be at 25% capacity and we’ve worked with the city to allow restaurants to put tables outside, but it’s unfortunately a new normal now,” Date said.
The way to come back from this economic decline is through community support, Date said. The Chamber worked with city officials and Corvallis Customs selling T-shirts and other merchandise to raise money for the Corvallis Sewing Brigade, which is currently making masks and other PPE for healthcare and essential workers.
“People bought tons of shirts, polos, car stickers, whatever it may be… it’s just little things like that, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture,” Date said.
Although there is no way to change the outcome of the COVID-19 shutdowns and travel restrictions directly at the local level, Rehklau is hopeful that Corvallis can make a comeback.
“As far as rebounding, the one thing we’re trying to do a lot more in Corvallis is promoting rural experiences,” Rehklau said. “The real big thing is that we would love to see those students back in the fall. It’s one of those unfortunate things: a health crisis has created an economic crisis.”