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Bend is Awesome. Don't Come Here.

In an city dominated by tourism, Bend's city manager makes an order aimed at keeping visitors away

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Eric King, Bend City manager released an order Friday, “discouraging tourist travel” through the end of April.

It doesn't outright outlaw it, however, nor does it pose any fines for violations, nor demand cancellations for current bookings. But for some locals, it's just the type of direction around outside visitors that they've been looking for from local leaders.

On March 20 Visit Bend changed its homepage to discourage visitors from coming to Bend during the COVID-19 pandemic. - VISIT BEND
  • Visit Bend
  • On March 20 Visit Bend changed its homepage to discourage visitors from coming to Bend during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Owners and operators of temporary lodging facilities should not book any new reservations for tourist accommodation, and should only book reservations needed for health, safety or employment or other permitted essential travel,” read a statement sent March 27 by Anne Aurand, the City’s communications director.



Visit Bend is also on board. Since March 20, its homepage has read “Stay Home. Stay Safe. Your Bend vacation can wait.”

Meanwhile, the local hospitality industry has tanked.

Kevney Dugan, CEO of Visit Bend, told the Source that rental occupancy rates last weekend were at 15%, tops. Usually that weekend—which leads into spring break—has occupancy rates at 85 to 90%. He expects to see this weekend to drop into the single digits.



“Now is not the time to risk community health for lodging revenue,” Dugan said. “We need to look after this community first. We want to be here and healthy when we get to the other end of this.”

While VB does have a rainy-day fund, it's almost 100% reliant on transient room tax revenues. Dugan sees Visit Bend playing a positive role at the end of the crisis by helping the hundreds of small businesses that rely on tourism in Bend to recover.

Dugan said the City Manager’s order has already become a useful tool for hoteliers and vacation rental managers to communicate with customers and explain their position.

The threat of viral transmission from visitors has led some people in Bend to lobby the City to shut down all accommodations businesses.

An article published March 24 in the Source titled “Point of No Return” drew six comments related to outside visitors. One reader, jp97070, cited a recent ruling in Palm Springs, California to place a moratorium on all lodging facilities. It forced hoteliers to cancel all reservations and tell their current guests to leave town.

Another comment by Sunshine1 read:

BEND SOURCE
  • Bend Source

And this from Kevin Donnelly:

BEND SOURCE
  • Bend Source
Tourism, hospitality and restaurants were the first to fall and may be the hardest hit of any industry as a result of novel coronavirus.

In 2018, there were 13,000 jobs at 720 individual businesses in Bend in the Leisure and Hospitality industry. That's 8% of all businesses and nearly 16% of all jobs.

Not only do these industries depend on disposable income, but on the basic physics of people moving from place to place—both contingencies that are off the table for the coming months.

Meanwhile, last weekend (or was it last year?) people descended in droves into the scenic hotspots of Central Oregon. They flooded the trails and packed the State Parks. Many close friends of mine expressed disbelief at the crowds.

How was this possible, after so much messaging about maintaining distance from others?

Reprimanding memes accompanied by photos of overflowing parking lots from around the state made the rounds of social media. On Monday, March 23, Gov. Kate Brown expressed frustration at recent news footage of crowded beaches and parks and tightened up restrictions with a “Stay Home, Save Lives” order that shut down even more workplaces and recreation areas.

WHITNEY HOSHAW VIA TWITTER MARCH 21
  • Whitney Hoshaw via Twitter March 21

Where did all these people come from last weekend? The easy answer, of course, is to assume they were visitors from other towns, spring breakers, devil-may-care millennials who missed the memo that 40% of hospitalized coronavirus patients are people their age.

But another possibility is they were locals who usually work at restaurants and hotels on the weekends. Or maybe—with stricter lockdown orders looming—people were out having a last hurrah before becoming trapped inside the house for months at a time.

In a community so heavily dependent on outsiders, the devastating effects of social distancing has already crippled the local economy. Is hospitality and tourism just an easy scapegoat to unleash pent-up frustrations and fear about  coronavirus? If so, they’re getting hit while they’re down, and the numbers demonstrate that not too many people came to Central Oregon last weekend.

Central Oregon and the entire U.S. has become one giant social experiment in the effectiveness of issuing orders and discouraging behavior. Forcing people to do things just seems so un-American. Is our society up to the task of voluntarily following the rules?

The recent non-essential travel order from the City, and Brown’s “stay home” order inch Central Oregonians closer to a time when we could start to get in trouble for leaving the house. (Technically, cops could arrest people right now—though Bend Police and the Deschutes County Sheriff have said they'll do that only as a last resort.)

One of the gifts of living in Central is open space, without the crowded streets and subways that New York, one of the virus' epicenters in the U.S., has. If nothing else, the chance to breathe in a little fresh air everyday may help keep us sane.

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