LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Thousands would be flocking to the area this weekend for the 2020 WIAA State Track & Field Meet at UW-La Crosse, but due to COVID-19, organizers were forced to cancel the event.
The meet has an annual economic impact of over $2 million to the area according to the La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
It's is just one of many area events and holiday celebrations canceled which is leaving a ripple effect on the local economy. Hotels are down to low occupancy. Bed & Breakfasts and AirBnb's are also facing much lower numbers according to AJ Frels, executive director of the La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Our lodging partners are telling us that it's beginning to creep back but very conservatively," said Frels.
In 2019, the LCCCVB reported that the area brought in $281 million in direct visitor spending. Frels doesn't expect the area to hit or pass that number until 2022 due to the pandemic.
The effects of COVID-19 have been devastating for the hospitality industry. In April, hotels in La Crosse County were seeing single digits. Bed and Breakfasts also shuttered their doors or very few guests.
"We were gearing up for our most successful year and it came to a screeching halt the first part of April," said Billy Bergeron, owner of Castle La Crosse Bed & Breakfast. "We cannot operate without the other businesses within La Crosse."
The ripple effects have also hit the convention and visitors bureau which depends on room tax from hotels to continue marketing the area.
We've furloughed approximately half of our staff at this time. We hope to see some growth back so we can bring people back," said Frels. "We certainly want to do that."
However, both Frels and Bergeron are continuing to stay optimistic despite the major setbacks from COVID-19.
"Every indication, every study, every survey that I've seen out there says that we are the type of market that will rebound the quickest," said Frels.
La Crosse features many different outdoor recreations where social distancing can be achieved like boating and hiking. It also sits in a unique location, offering a weekend getaway for people from the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Madison.
"I'm very optimistic about people traveling especially to destinations that are close to major cities but yet enough of a getaway," said Bergeron.
As more businesses and restaurants continue to open their doors safely, the message from area businesses has been that La Crosse awaits them when they're ready.