With the Governor’s Report to Open Texas, residents are starting to again move about the city and county. And Texans are starting to move about the state.
At the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau (FCVB), the staff has been busy studying, researching, listening, disseminating information and working on a strategic plan to move us forward from the historic business lows caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strategic plan for the visitor industry here has three basic components: response, re-entry and recovery.
The response phase began as the pandemic shut down the visitor industry around the globe in mid-March.
The staff has spent the last two months studying the data being collected about the impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry. It is not a pretty picture world-wide.
The FCVB staff has also been busy sharing pertinent information with our local visitor industry partners. And we have spent countless hours updating the bureau’s website to provide local residents and our loyal visitors from across the state and beyond the most current information on travelrelated conditions in our destination.
We have supported our restaurant partners by promoting pickup and curbside orders and our retailers who have an online presence.
In conjunction with the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, we sent signs to businesses in the downtown historic district to post on doors and windows welcoming customers back, but also encouraging them to please practice social distancing, to wash or sanitize their hands often and to wear masks.
Staff has been working with our counterparts in destinations around the state, building itineraries for drive vacations across Texas.
We have worked to rebook conferences, meetings, weddings, reunions and tours that could not take place when they had been scheduled in April, May and June.
All the while, we have also been structuring a strategic plan to begin to bring back the tourism industry in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County.
During the response phase, the FCVB pulled all digital advertising and slowed down social media postings with the main message being “stay home, stay safe.” We went into what one could call a “silent mode” in terms of visitor marketing. Like most other non-essential operations, the Visitor Information Center was closed to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Our general philosophy has been to let visitors return to our destination “organically” (without call-to-action marketing for the short term) and as determined appropriate by governmental regulations during the response phase. We started to see this begin to happen this past weekend with increased visitor activity.
It is important to note for our visitor industry partners that a survey last week of local lodging properties indicates overall lodging occupancy on Memorial Day weekend could be near 60%, if the weather is good. Just to put this into some perspective for readers, the weekend of May 8-9 occupancy was 33% for our lodging and on the other end of the spectrum, occupancy on Memorial Day weekend would normally be in the 95% to 100% range.
The response phase in our strategic plan is moving toward an end.
Be aware anything I write about from here on could change any day with new guidance from the Governor’s Office or a surge of COVID-19 cases locally.
The next phase is re-entry into the travel market, which we identified as starting June 1. The staff at the FCVB must take into consideration current guidance from the CDC, the local medical community and all governmental agencies.
We also are cognizant of local resident sentiment to keep our town as safe as possible — we live here, too, so we certainly agree on this very important point — and the real need of our local businesses to generate a revenue stream ASAP if they are to survive.
We also have to look at visitor sentiment to travel, which is collected on a national basis and the preparedness of the local hospitality industry to once again host visitors. For example, with local restaurants operating at 50% capacity, it is evident that we cannot at this moment host the same number of visitors as we did pre-COVID-19.
What geographic areas of the state and country have had stay-at-home orders lifted also plays into future marketing decisions. We would not be good stewards of our limited marketing dollars if we were running travel ads in an area where no one is supposed to leave their home other than for essential purposes.
All indications are that the American “drive vacation” will be the first mode of travel to come back in the U.S. And some good news for Fredericksburg and Gillespie County, national research indicates many visitors will be looking for a small town, rural, outdoors or beach vacation this year. OK, three out of four puts our destination in a good place it would seem as we move forward!
For our destination, the reentry phase will be stimulated by the opening of the peach orchard roadside stands to the public which happened this past weekend — always a strong draw for June and July. Thank you, growers!
The governor’s announcement on Monday that wineries, bars and craft breweries will be able to reopen this Friday at 25% capacity will definitely create additional visitor interest.
What we are calling the recovery phase is currently identified as kicking off in September of this year and continuing into 2021. This is where the FCVB plans to be back up to speed again in terms of marketing efforts for our destination. However, it is important to note that across Texas and the U.S., marketing to international visitors will be dependent on when flights are reinstated by the major international carriers.
Again, this date is based on what visitors are currently saying on a national basis about when most will be ready to travel again. And the fall season is where some of our conference/meeting groups, tour groups, reunions and wedding clients have rescheduled events. Unfortunately, some have had to cancel events in Fredericksburg completely, due to budget restrictions.
Again, what happens in terms of the reopening of businesses in Texas over the next couple of weeks and months, and the hopeful lack of any major additional pandemic outbreaks in our country, will determine whether this is a good date or not for the full recovery phase.
And a bit more good news to end: National research showed that starting on May 1, hotel bookings and airline flight reservations showed some positive movement upward for the first time from the historic lows caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the FCVB, we look forward to gradually improving visitor traffic this summer and a much better fall travel season, based on the projections and data we have right now.
Loeffler is the president and CEO of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau.