COVID-19 significantly impacted Idaho travel and tourism in the early months of the pandemic, and while the industry continues to struggle, businesses like hotels and motels have started to rebound.

“We are seeing some positive trends … but that doesn’t mean that times aren’t still extremely hard,” said Matt Borud, Idaho Commerce marketing and innovation administrator. “It doesn’t mean that we’re in a good place because for many people and for many businesses and for many communities, we are not in a particularly good place.”

Borud gave a virtual presentation titled, “Idaho Tourism in a COVID World,” on Wednesday. The talk was hosted by the Moscow Chamber of Commerce.

Borud said Idaho is projected to be down 14 percent in lodging collections this fiscal year ($11,290,789) compared to fiscal 2020 ($13,119,104), which ended June 30. Idaho charges a 2-percent travel and convention (lodging) tax to occupants of hotel and motel rooms, as well as private campgrounds and vacation home rentals, according to the Idaho State Tax Commission’s website.

If the 14-percent downturn estimate is accurate, it would still be the fourth-highest lodging collection year in the state’s history, which Borud said is insane to think about considering the pandemic.

“I’m so happy we’re not down in that 40-percent range,” Borud said. “I mean 14 percent is still nothing to get too excited about but it isn’t going to be the devastating impact to the program and to our communities and our partners as maybe we were afraid of when we were thinking 40 percent.”

Lodging collections in Idaho, including north-central Idaho (Region 2), have increased each year from fiscal 2016 to 2019, Borud said. But it declined slightly from 2019 to 2020, including $692,882 to $601,566 in north-central Idaho, at least in part because of COVID-19. That 13.2 percent reduction in north-central Idaho was the largest of Idaho’s seven regions.

The state occupancy rate, or percentage of hotel, motel and other rooms booked in Idaho, is down 21.7 percent year to date. But Borud said it is starting to trend closer to normal numbers.

Only 22.6 percent of rooms were booked this past April compared to 62.8 percent in April 2019. 61.6 percent of rooms were booked in October compared to 64.9 percent in October 2019.

Borud said Idaho ranked fourth in the country in weekly travel spending earlier this month based on the year over year percentage change. Washington was ranked in the bottom 10 in early November.

He said Idaho has mostly been in the top 10 throughout the summer and he attributed the high rankings to people flocking to Idaho’s outdoor recreation attractions, which were especially popular this year because of COVID-19.

“People were outdoors ‘cause there just wasn’t anything else to do,” he said.

Borud said the top reasons people visit Idaho are to see friends and family, experience the outdoors and tour the region.

“2020 really has been the year of the road trip,” he said.

Borud said the travel and tourism industry is Idaho’s third largest behind agricultural production and technology.

He said visitor spending has grown 5 to 7 percent per year and visitors to the state has increased about 3 percent annually.

“This is vital spending, vital to our economy,” Borud said.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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