Tourism industry changes as states, including Indiana, start to reopen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - As states like Indiana are easing into reopening, the travel and tourism industry is letting residents know that it is okay and it is safe to travel.

Many people have been hunkering down at home waiting for this pandemic to die down while following travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines. Now that states are starting to reopen, are folks starting to plan their next vacation? Or are there still concerns about catching the virus?

“Suppliers keep us updated on their properties all across the united states and internationally and they tell us what the policies are and when they are accepting reservations,” Kimberly Kieft the owner of Dimension Global Travel in South Bend said.

She tells ABC57 more and more suppliers like hotels, amusement parks, cruise companies are starting to ease restrictions.

Since the pandemic began, she’s been busy issuing refunds to clients, but now she’s seeing more and more people plan future vacations.

She says a lot of airlines and hotels have become more flexible than ever before, regarding refunds and allowing for travel credit up until as far as 2022.

So that money might not even go to waste.

“Now is a great time to plan your travels and the reason’s not only the deals but also because they are saying ‘hey we want you to reschedule your travel, we want you to start booking your travel, we need you to start booking your travel to save our industry and to reinvest in that part of our economy,” Kieft said.

The sooner states ease restrictions, the sooner businesses can start to reopen and the sooner tourism can get back up and running.

But before that happens, residents need to feel safe traveling again.

Right now, it is pretty quiet at the South Bend International Airport but hopefully, that will soon change as more places are reopening.

The main obstacle, of course, is getting people to trust travel again and feel safe doing so.

That’s why the airport has set up hand sanitizer stations and is requiring face masks to be worn.

“So I know it can be scary to say gosh, I don’t know if I should go on a cruise, I don’t know if I want to go on an airplane, I should only vacation to somewhere I can drive through and I really think that with the health and safety of their guests in mind, the airlines and the cruise industry are overly cautious and safer than ever,” Kieft said.

There are several things airports and airlines are doing to make sure folks feel safe traveling again.

Such as enhanced cleaning protocols, using disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19, and increasing the number of times surfaces in high touch areas are being wiped.

Julie Curtis with South Bend International tells ABC57 there are also PA announcements reminding people to social distance and wash their hand regularly and soon there will be decals placed on the floor to show people how to distance.

However, Curtis says she expects people will be traveling much more soon.

“We do expect leisure travel to be the first to pick-up, we do know there is pent-up demand and people want to get to places. Many of us missed our spring break plans and are ready to go. I think that depends on though what is happening across the country because there needs to be things open for people to do in those destinations that they are going to,” Curtis said.

So the empty airport may look different as fall comes around, especially if sports events come back into the mix.

However, as of right now, several big events like Billy Joel’s concert, and other sporting events that would’ve brought a lot of tourism to the city of South Bend have been canceled or pushed back, leaving the city looking a little empty and has been affecting area hotels.

“I think it’s going to be slow but hopefully slow and steady. We were closed for the month of April. We just reopened Monday, May 4th so we had a lot of training to go through with our staff as far as PPE equipment and protecting our guests,” David Waymire, the General Manager at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel said.

Part of the industries affected by this pandemic nationally and here locally in the hotel industry.

Usually, Waymire’s hotel would be jam-packed during this time but since the pandemic, they are also looking a little empty.

They closed during April and after applying for and receiving PPP loans, Waymire said he was able to bring over 100 employees back.

Now they have reopened this last Monday but with a ton of new safety measures.

Such as requiring all guests and staff to wear face masks, if a guest does not have one, the hotel will provide it.

They only allow two guests on an elevator at a time and after a guest leaves, employees will leave the room and not even go in it for 2 to 3 days before extensively cleaning.

“Every employee that comes in, they have to come in through a certain entrance, we have to take their temperature, we log that, we make sure they have their PPE on. We will go through the property to make sure of that. We look for social distancing,” he said. “What we’ve seen so far, haven’t had a lot of guests but I think they’re happy with what they’ve seen because they can see we’re taking care of them.”

With other hotels, airports, and other businesses taking just as many precautions, it’s a good a time as ever to start planning for some fall trips and helping local tourism grow again.

Like Waymire said today “Bring ‘em on.”

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