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As Winter Approaches, Park City Businesses Expect the Unexpected

Jen Silva

With winter right around the corner and COVID-19 as uncertain as ever, how is the local business community preparing for a winter tourist season unlike any they’ve ever seen before? Although projections are down, local businesses are hopeful for a pleasant surprise this winter. 


COVID-19 has been a real challenge for economies everywhere, but Park City’s tourism-focused economy has faced problems few other cities have.


Park City’s economy relies largely on what is considered “imported money” -- That’s money that comes into the economy from elsewhere through tourism. 


With travel restricted worldwide due to the pandemic and many would-be vacationers wary of venturing too far from home, the city’s businesses had to get creative.


Car-free Sundays provided an opportunity for merchants to conduct business outside on Main Street. Some businesses even reported record sales despite the pandemic. Other sectors of the economy still struggled.

The Historic Park City Alliance represents the business community in downtown Park City. The Park City Chamber and Visitors Bureau told the group on Tuesday that visitation was down 49% from 2019 numbers earlier in the summer but increased month-over-month as the year progressed.


HPCA Executive Director Alison Kuhlow tells KPCW although lodging numbers are still down, the monthly improvements were a promising sign heading into the winter tourist season.     


“We’re still under last year, but to see that people are getting more comfortable with navigating their lives with the regulations and vacationing with the regulations that we hope to continue to see the growth and start to see those numbers increase.”


Despite the better than anticipated outlook, Kuhlow says it’s important to recognize that visitations are still expected to be significantly down compared to a normal year. The greater Park City area had record economic years pre-pandemic and was on pace for another before the virus hit in March.


“The numbers looking forward into the winter aren’t great,” Kuhlow said. “I mean, we’re still looking at about 50% down through January, February, and March, but each 30-day period, we’re seeing those numbers start to decline so that we’re getting closer and closer to what we had seen previously. But, again, still significantly down.”


Air travel is still greatly reduced and not likely to change until a vaccine is widely available. With a significant chunk of potential visitors to Park City unlikely to travel, the city has instead had to target the drive-to markets of the Wasatch Front and other areas within a day’s drive.


Kuhlow says this could create another problem: traffic and parking.


“I think one thing we’re looking to acknowledge is that there’s going to be more visitors with vehicles,” she said. “Many people may not be as comfortable on public transportation or using rideshares so that’s something we want to look at. The other thing is that we are anticipating that we will be pleasantly surprised, just as we were this summer, but that means that we have to plan for town to turn around, essentially, in five days of it going seemingly slow to absolutely busy. It really is just trying to make sure that we can be ready if we see increased traffic than what we anticipate.” 


As the weather cools down and winter approaches, there’s still so much that simply can’t be known. Will there be a “second wave” of COVID-19? When will an effective vaccine become available to the public? What if it’s a terrible snow year?   


Kuhlow says it’s all about being adaptable and acknowledging, at this point, anything could happen.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.
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