Updated: March 30, 5:15 p.m.
Tourism officials in the Flathead Valley who normally promote the area’s scenic and cultural wonders are making a rare pitch this week: stay away.
While the coronavirus pandemic spreads across Montana and the country, local officials are worried that people from out of the area are seeking refuge in the Flathead Valley, which could strain local resources should COVID-19 cases significantly increase locally. On March 27, Dylan Boyle, executive director of Explore Whitefish, posted a message on YouTube encouraging people to cancel their plans to visit the area for now.
“Now is not the time to visit Whitefish. Now is not the time to visit Glacier National Park,” Boyle said. “Now is the time to settle into your homes with your family to ride out this storm. This storm will pass and when it does, Whitefish will be here to welcome you.”
On Monday, Gov. Steve Bullock directed anyone arriving in Montana from another state or country for non-work-related purposes to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. The order applies to both residents and non-residents.
“While we love our visitors, we would ask that you not come visit while Montanans are watching out for one another by staying at home,” Bullock said. “This is important not only to protect our health care system but also to protect against the spread of COVID-19. As of today, travel from another state or country is the most common known source of COVID-19 infections in Montana.”
According to a Montana Free Press story, data from AirDNA — a company that analyzes data about the short-term rental industry — the number of vacation rental reservations made in Montana has increased in recent weeks, especially in the Flathead Valley. Reported rental revenue in Whitefish during the first half of March grew from $1.1 million in 2019 to $2.1 million in 2020, a 92% increase.
Across Montana, short-term rental revenue over the same time period went from $5.3 million in 2019 to $9.4 million in 2020.
Officials across the state are also worried that people are retreating from urban areas to second homes that they own in the state, which would also put a stress on local supplies and medical services.
Late last week, at least one vacation rental business in Whitefish sent out a promotion encouraging people from out of state to seek refuge in the area. The move was heavily criticized on social media, and the promotion was later dropped. The company apologized.
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