As Hoosiers works to return to some sense of normalcy after the harrowing ordeal of 2020, popular tourist destinations are expressing cautious optimism for the upcoming summer season.
Amy Howell, director of communications for Indiana Destination Development Corp., said the state’s leisure and travel sectors reported a dramatic year-over-year improvement of about 80% this spring.
And that recovery, she said, is primarily due to a remarkable surge in the number of residents who dare to patronize reopened stores.
“A recent survey we conducted shows that over half of Indiana residents expect to return to their normal levels of social activity in the next three months,” Howell said. “We are seeing an upward trend in people who feel safe traveling on an airplane, attending a sporting event or concert, going to the cinema, staying in a hotel, and engaging in other activities.”
As she predicts what the upcoming summer tourism season will look like for the state, Howell said the trend towards increased social activity will continue over the coming weeks and months, especially as more residents are fully vaccinated against the virus.
That coincides with what Andy Rohrer hears from his role as Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Blue Gate Hospitality Co., a major employer in the popular tourist town of Shipshewana, LaGrange County.
Blue Gate Hospitality Co. is located in the heart of the Amish country of northern India and is the parent company of numerous companies including the Blue Gate Restaurant & Bakery, the Blue Gate Theater, the Shipshewana Craft Barn and the recently built Blue Gate Performing Arts Center.
“2020 was of course a huge success for us,” said Rohrer about the beginnings of the pandemic. “We had just opened the new theater, had two shows and then had to close it again. But I think we were one of the first theaters in the country to try (socially) distant shows. And they worked well. They allowed us to do some shows – limited, socially distant, with masks, the whole nine meters – but it still allowed us to move things forward. Now, this year, it really feels like now everyone is getting their vaccines and can go again, there is a real hunger to come out and get live entertainment going again. “
And according to Rohrer, the company has already announced that it will be offering numerous non-distant shows through its theater and performing arts centers from the fall. That decision, he said, received almost unanimous approval from potential patrons.
“And every time we talk to someone on the phone when we sell them tickets, we always tell them, ‘Just so you know that we’re not doing distance shows in the fall. So this is not going to be a detached show. ‘ And 99% of people say: ‘Great, wonderful, we’re looking forward to it,’ “Rohrer said of the change. “So the vast majority of people are very excited to get out and do things back to normal.”
WATER & WINE
At the southern end of the state, the prospects for Holiday World Theme Park & Splashin ‘Safari Water Park are also good this summer.
According to Media Relations Manager Sabrina Jones, the park, which is about 30 minutes north of the Kentucky border in Spencer County, was actually able to maintain operations for much of the 2020 tourist season, albeit at reduced capacity.
“We were very lucky,” said Jones. “We were one of the few theme parks in the country that were allowed to open. And we worked very closely with the state health department and our local health department to make this possible. So, you know, we’ve been in this industry for 75 years and it was definitely a year of turning point, figuring out things, etc. But at the core, we focused on being a place where people get away from their everyday lives can live and just go there, have fun and make a few memories with their families. “
As for her predictions for the upcoming tourist season, Jones said all signs point to an excellent year for the park and its 2,200+ employees, especially as the park celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer.
“All we see is that people are ready to go out and have fun,” said Jones. “Since we’re primarily a summer destination, I think it’s the perfect time for people to come out. We’re primarily an outdoor attraction, and all we see is people excited to go out, travel, and be outside with their families. “
For the employees at Oliver Winery & Vineyards, a popular tourist destination in Bloomington, Monroe County, the business was able to scale back the winery significantly during the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, but it was able to stay open and serve customers for most of the past year.
“Last year I think we opened for shopping again in May, and then we got some kind of tasting experience, kind of wine experience, back into play in June,” said Sarah Anderson, Marketing Director for Oliver Winery & Vineyards. “So we have been offering a reserved flight experience for about last year, where we take guests through a range of wines and also tell them about the history of the winery and the story behind all the wines they are tasting again. And we were lucky I think and very happy with the way it was received. People seem to really, really enjoy the experience. “
And, according to Anderson, the winery’s business is booming this spring, aided by the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the widespread availability of vaccines.
“We have been seeing sold out flights on nice weekends for some time now, especially on the weekends. That was great, ”said Anderson of the change. “And of course, our hospitality crew, I mean, they love to see and see all of our customers. So it was very refreshing and really wonderful to see guests come back. And as things slowly open up again and get closer to normal – whatever is normal – we enjoy more and more every day seeing people’s faces and watching them experience these great moments with their families and friends . “
However, she noted that it will likely be some time before the winery can get back to something similar to its pre-COVID-19 business model, given that the winery’s tasting room alone has historically seen around 200,000 visitors a year.
“It took us a while to get to where we are now,” said Anderson. “So we will need a little time to get closer to our previous location.”