Many hotels, campgrounds and other lodgings in Cody have begun the process of opening for the summer season as they navigate public health restrictions.
Safety concerns are handicapping some businesses as they help keep people safe. Also, a severe drop in foreign tourists is hurting business.
Brenda O’Shea, co-owner of the Western Rose Motel, said she has had to cancel hundreds of reservations due to the worldwide restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We lost thousands of dollars from European tourists, and that has been kind of difficult to deal with,” O’Shea said. “We are, in fact, a mom-and-pop-style motel, so there isn’t going to be anyone higher up to help us. It’s just us. But we are going to stay open anyway, and while we can’t hope to make up the difference, we can at least stay open for our customers and get some support in return.”
Jean Mickelson, manager of the Cody KOA, said foreign tourism for the summer is nonexistent, as May is usually the best month for foreign travelers.
Even on the off chance more foreign tourists are able to make the trip this year, that will not make up for the wave of income from that demographic, she said. American tourists are also coming in as more of a trickle than a flood.
“We’re talking, like, Floridians, people from Florida would love to come to Cody and stay with us, but the problem is the 12 or so states between us that they have to drive through to get to us,” Mickelson said. “We are expecting a lot of local or near Wyoming people. We’ve had some people coming from Casper, probably just to get out of the house.”
One of the big influences on the decision to reopen was Yellowstone National Park opening Monday. Many lodgings decided to reopen to provide services for those who felt comfortable enough to travel to the parks.
Susan Walfall, the general manager of the Best Western Sunset Inn, is currently working at the other Best Western – Premier Ivy Inn – due to her hotel being closed. She doesn’t know how or when both will be ready to be open, but Walfall said that meetings are being held to assess the needs for the business, with updated information every week.
“I think a lot of hotels were waiting on when things were opening for Yellowstone, because for the longest time we didn’t know when it was going to, and now that it is opening, we’re all starting to wait for the calls to pick up,” Walfall said. “I think in this industry, and the traveling industry, we talk about things happening like this.
“We weren’t expecting anything record-breaking this year, like last year which was really good for a summer season. Now we’re going to have to expect, at the very least, less than that. It isn’t exactly anything you want to see in the books, but it happens.”
Many business amenities are being cancelled, postponed or restricted, such as the KOA’s pool and pancake breakfast,until the rest of Cody opens up.
“We’re trying to comply with the COVID-19 guidelines from the state, as the health of our guests and staff are our highest priority,” said Mike Darby, co-owner of the Irma. “We want to ensure that we can follow those guidelines to the utmost of our ability, so people can feel comfortable coming in through our doors.”
For some hotels, keeping with the health guidelines is easier due to the layout and design of their buildings, with smaller, more outdoor-oriented buildings mitigating social contact. The Western Rose Motel is one such place expecting an influx of customers, as they had received the first of new reservations on Friday, before officially opening.
“We hope to get busier, because we have an exterior corridor, meaning the hotel doors immediately go outside, which helps keep people socially distanced,” said O’Shea.
While the summer seasons is expected to have a lower than usual turnout, Mickelson said there has already been a large number of reservations being made for the fall and next year’s summer tourist seasons. So while this current summer doesn’t have the best prospects, there is business in the future.
“Right now, we’re down about 30% from last year, with the exception of August and September being up. The fall is up system wide,” Mickelson said. “We have also opened up our 2021 calendar early, and we’ve already seen a lot of people transfer their reservations from this year to next year. A lot of people want to come here, they’re just nervous about it this year.”