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Mountain West Takes Baby Steps In Reopening To Tourists

Elizabeth Camp

This story was powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

The number of U.S. airline passengers is creeping up as states begin to relax their stay-at-home orders, according to the latest data from the Transportation Security Administration.

Last Saturday, more than 250,000 people passed through airport security checkpoints across the country – almost three times as many airline passengers as there were during the depths of the pandemic in mid-April. However, it's still just a tiny fraction of the more than two million people who flew every day last year. 

"We think that domestic and international travel by flight is going to be a later part of the recovery," says Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. 

That said, there has been an uptick in visitation to her agency's website in recent weeks. She expects most travelers to Utah will come from neighboring states. 

"Families hopping in the car and taking an adventure trip here, as well as Utahns starting to circulate around the state," she says.

Nevada, Montana and Idaho, among other states, are encouraging travellers from out-of-state to quarantine upon arrival for 14 days before moving around freely. Some of the first cases of COVID-19 in the Mountain West came after out-of-state travellers visited ski resorts. Varela says her agency remains hesitant to invite tourists into the state.

"We see the tourism economy growing and us getting back into marketing based on a convergence of community readiness to welcome visitors, consumer readiness to travel, and certainly a flattening of the COVID curve," she says. "All those things have to be in place before we start getting back to a lot of travel."

On Tuesday, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced the mandatory two-week quarantine for out-of-state visitors will be lifted June 1, which coincides with when Montana will open its gates to Yellowstone National Park.

"As soon as the news went out and the governor spoke, it was crazy to see all the reservations and all these calls and inquiries," the owner of a Bozeman motel told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News

Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau based at Yellowstone Public Radio. He earned an M.A. in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism in 2016 and interned at NPR’s Morning Edition in 2014. In a prior life, he toured around the country in a band, lived in Texas for a spell, and once tried unsuccessfully to fly fish. You can reach Nate at nate@ypradio.org.
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