Earlier this year, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville faced a crisis. The state’s No. 1 paid attraction announced that because of pandemic-related closures, it had laid off more than 100 full-time employees and could be forced to close permanently in October unless it raised $1.5 million.
Fortunately, response was swift, and within eight days the center received the needed funds.
However, when it reopened in late June, attendance was only 20% of previous numbers.
Tourism still hurting
Hundreds of attractions, hotels and restaurants are in the same situation — hanging on by a thin financial thread. Many have already been forced to lock their doors, while others are praying for a miracle.
Venturing to public spaces comes with a measure of risk, but if you are healthy and willing to take the precautions of masking, social distancing, hand-washing and all the rest, the tourism industry will welcome you and be grateful for your visit.
My husband and I started by tiptoeing inside restaurants when they reopened their dining rooms. We were pleased to find most of the environments shiny and extremely clean. Half the tables were either removed or designated as closed for use, servers were wearing masks, no condiments were on the tables, hand sanitizer was available at the entrance and menus were disposable. Fewer diners created a quieter experience with attentive service.
A few weeks later, we decided to stay overnight in a chain hotel a short drive from home, to check the safeguards in place before we decided to travel farther away. We were extremely pleased with what we found. This particular hotel had plexiglass separating the guest and the employee at the reception desk. Social distancing stickers designated where to stand in line. Hand-sanitizing stations were placed in strategic spots around the lobby, and all staff members wore masks. The elevator was limited to two guests (or one family) at a time.
Cleanliness a priority
When we reached our room, a seal had been placed across the door signifying it had been sanitized using hospital-grade disinfectants. All touch surfaces were thoroughly cleaned, including the TV remote, and an extra package of disinfectant wipes was placed inside so guests could do additional cleaning. Bed coverings are now washed and replaced after every guest. I don’t recall ever staying in a hotel that smelled as fresh and clean as this one did.
The improvements made and the attention paid to every aspect of a guest’s experience were remarkable and very reassuring.
Self-serve breakfast buffets have disappeared for now, but pre-packaged options of pastries, yogurt or fruit juice usually are offered, along with requisite morning coffee.
And attractions are adapting as well. Outdoor gardens are a great choice for a safe place to enjoy nature and get some exercise. In Alabama, popular spots including Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Theodore; Birmingham Botanical Gardens; and Huntsville Botanical Garden have all reopened.
If you’re ready for a slightly longer drive, Gibbs Gardens, about an hour north of Atlanta in Ball Ground, Georgia, is gorgeous.
At all these outdoor venues, staff members are doing everything possible to follow CDC guidelines to keep visitors safe and healthy.
Museums now open
This is also a great time to visit a museum. There are no crowds. Everyone is wearing a mask, and you can view the displays and artworks in a relaxed and unhurried manner. The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Birmingham Museum of Art are open again. Vulcan Park and Museum and the McWane Science Center in Birmingham have reopened. In Huntsville, the Huntsville Museum of Art, Burritt on the Mountain and other attractions are open again.
A word of caution: be sure to check the website of an attraction before you visit. Often, tickets must be purchased in advance online, with a designated arrival time. Many venues have shorter hours of operation and are at reduced occupancy. Don’t forget to take a mask.
Cruises are still grounded for the most part, and overseas flights are limited as many countries still aren’t allowing visitors from the U.S. But short road trips are possible and can be managed safely by doing research and taking the guidelines seriously.
Hotel managers, restaurant owners and chefs, museum directors and all the people who work alongside them are eager for us to return and lend our support. If we are physically able, we can help them keep their jobs and allow these businesses to remain open.
For other travel ideas, click here.