As cancelations of events in response to the COVID-19 outbreak continue, Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jackson has a simple message — keep Boone healthy, in more ways than one.
“Listen to AppHealthCare (Watauga County’s district health department), be aware, be cautious with your own health and then if possible, make as many local purchase decisions as possible. It’s a very important time for the business community to maintain volume.”
With the cancelation of events and in-person classes likely to affect tourism and business dollars, Jackson said the local establishments would be the first places to feel the pinch.
“This is not a time to sit on Amazon, buy everything and have it delivered to your house,” Jackson said.
That concern and uncertainty is shared by Watauga County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Wright Tilley.
“At this point we simply can’t predict what the impact will be for the Boone area,” Tilley said. “International travel, meetings, conventions and the cruise industry are likely to see the most impact initially. Since we are a drive market and have an abundance of outdoor activities, we are hopeful that we will feel less of an impact than some other destinations. If people want to travel, but don’t want to be in big cities or get on a plane, we are a great destination.”
Jackson said along with volume of business, staffing is a major concern, especially in hospitality-centered businesses such as restaurants and hotels.
“The effort of the last 12-24 hours is to understand what people are being asked to do,” Jackson said.
Out of Appalachian State University’s student population of more than 19,000, Jackson says approximately 13,000 live off campus and are not directly affected by the university’s guidance that residence hall students stay at home.
However, with the university extending spring break an additional week, it could add an unexpected burden, Jackson explained, with the uncertainty of the students returning.
“Everyone I’ve talked to today are really to take a ‘wait and see’ approach,” Jackson said. “Even businesses with contingency planning need time to digest this.”
As far as its own events, Jackson said that all Boone Chamber events through March, including Business After Hours, will be postponed. The status of events such as “4 Under 40,” scheduled for Thursday, April 9, is uncertain at this time, Jackson said.
Jackson said he would encourage lodging partners in the area to be flexible with their cancelations, saying that they could win a lot of fans and potentially win customers down the road.
“Patience and flexibility are absolutely critical,” Jackson said. “This is outside of anybody’s control.”