• 66°

Washington Tourism seeks to promote safe travel amidst COVID-19 slump

The Washington Tourism Development Authority is once again looking for entries for its community photo contest, but this summer’s submissions may look a bit different from years prior. The theme of the competition is “Mask Up Beaufort County” and will feature local residents donning their face coverings in their favorite Beaufort County locales.

“We typically run two or three photo contests each year to gather digital assets and engage with the community,” said WTDA Director Erin Ruyle. “As the time came around for our summer photo contest, we knew we wanted to do something different. The main purpose is to promote safety while traveling and while engaging with the community. We want visitors to know we’re open, and to come and visit, but we want them to do it in a safe manner.”

The contest and the messaging come at a time when Washington has seen considerably less tourism spending compared to the average summer season. In many cases, travelers have chosen to postpone weekend getaways and family vacations amidst COVID-19 concerns.

“It’s nowhere near what we would normally see during the summer, but we are seeing a little bit of improvement as far as occupancy tax,” Rulye said. “The interesting thing is that people are traveling differently. They’re staying at Airbnbs, they’re camping and staying at places where they can travel, but still stay socially distanced.”

In addition to a slumping demand for tourism services, the widespread cancellation of events has also been a loss for local businesses. Currently, the WTDA has no events planned through the end of 2020, and other happenings throughout the community have also gone by the wayside. Still, Ruyle remains hopeful for the spring of 2021, with events like Cycle NC and the WTDA’s inaugural Sails and Ales Festival still on the calendar.

“Right now, we’re hopeful for these events, but we’re already thinking about what it looks like with COVID, what safety precautions we’ll have to take, how that impacts costs and how that impacts what a normal event would look like,” Ruyle said.

In terms of more immediate silver linings, Ruyle says the public seems to be more receptive to tourism marketing, and WTDA has seen a significant increase in its website traffic. She adds that both of these factors seem to point to pent up demand for tourism that may be fully felt once the pandemic subsides.

“Every couple of weeks, I get some research from the state tourism office, and one of the bright notes in recent research is that people are now open to receiving travel communications, whereas they weren’t at the beginning of the pandemic,” Ruyle said. “So right now, were just trying to get the right messaging out at the right time. … We’re hoping with this contest that we send the message that we promote safe travel only.”

The deadline for photo contest submissions is Sept. 11, which coincides with the scheduled expiration date of North Carolina’s Phase II of reopening. Each week until then, The WTDA will award a weekly winner with a $25 “Shop Local” gift card, which can be redeemed at a number of Washington businesses. Full rules and an entry form can be found online at here.