Exurban, rural communities say yes
Many local governments across the country have experienced devastating losses due to COVID-fueled lockdowns. Vaccination rates are growing rapidly, but in urban centers it can still be a Sisyphean effort to get jabbed.
But in rural or exurban counties a few hours outside big cities, there are tons of open appointments. And that’s catching the attention of city dwellers willing to travel. Local governments are making the most out of the influx of “vaccine tourists” to boost local sales, attract repeat visitors, and maybe even lure new residents.
Our client, Quincy, Illinois, is seeing such a steady stream of vaccine tourists from the Chicago area that it attracted the attention of the Chicago Tribune.
Person after person exiting the Quincy vaccination
site Saturday was from the Chicago area, and the
[Vaccine Hunters] Facebook group contains scores of
testimonials from people who obtained their shots in the southwestern Illinois city of 40,000.
- Chicago Tribune, 3/30/21
Quincy’s mayor, Kyle Moore, is quoted in the piece as stating that they’re recognizing the potential vaccine tourists have on their local economy and leaving out packets from the visitor’s bureau—and more than 2,000 have been picked up as urbanites get vaccinated.
These visitors are traveling by car, Amtrak, even plane to receive the coveted one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Some are staying overnight, checking out locally owned bars and restaurants, and visiting historic architecture sites. The story quotes Quincy Brewing co-owner Tieraney Craig as taking note, “We’ve absolutely noticed a lot of people from up north coming down.”
It’s not just Illinois, either. Vaccine tourism is happening when supply exceeds demand. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise in upstate New York reports a similar flow of vaccine tourists into the Potsdam, New York vaccination center coming from several hours away. These visitors are also spending dollars locally, staying overnight and checking out the local businesses.
Here are some tips for communities experiencing vaccine tourism:
- Offer promotional materials: Take a tip from Quincy mayor Kyle Moore place tourist brochures in high-visibility locations.
- Consult with local businesses: If you’re seeing this trend, alert local businesses who might offer specials, such as takeaway meal boxes for travelers heading home after getting vaccinated or coupons luring visitors to main streets. Local realtors might be interested in stepping up open houses, too.
- Practice safety measures: The last thing we want so close to controlling the pandemic is a flood of visitors bringing COVID into communities. Make sure to post signage about your community’s mask and social-distance policies.
- Provide transit: Quincy is seeing visitors by car, but also by train. Communities like these should consider offering shuttle services on a circuit from transit centers to the vaccination site to the main business district, in a timed loop.
While events like these won’t make up for the months and months of lost sales-tax revenue, hotel-motel taxes, and food-and-beverage taxes, every vaccination means that we’re getting closer to starting economic recovery.
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