Business

Tourism improving in Thurston County since Safe Start Phase 3

Business leaders convened on Zoom for presentations by three local hospitality leaders

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THURSTON COUNTY ––  Yesterday’s “Declassified” web conference offered perspectives on re-opening from the co-owner of Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar, a restaurant in downtown Olympia, the general manager of Great Wolf Lodge in Rochester and the CEO of Experience Olympia & Beyond, the official destination marketing organization of Thurston County.

Most of the presentations were positive and offer a glimpse of a near future that’s partly back to normal but with vastly changed standard operating procedures, such as near universal cashless payment systems, compulsory face covering, modified seating arrangements and diminished services.

Hotel occupancy has tripled; last week it was 61.5 percent, up from a low just under 20 percent a few weeks ago, according to Shauna Stewart, CEO of Experience Olympia & Beyond. She described several efforts that her organization made in recent weeks that promote “healthy and safe travel” to Thurston County during the pandemic and reassure would-be tourists that it’s safe to come here. 

Many of the photos at their website, www.ExperienceOlympia.com, were replaced with new images showing smiling servers and patrons wearing face coverings.

“Reconnecting with friends and family is a top priority for many people,” Stewart said.  “We understand the need for togetherness and connection. Invite your family and friends to Thurston County. Invite them to stay in a local hotel to make new and positive pandemic memories.”

Great Wolf Lodge, the largest hotel in Thurston County with 400 rooms, reopened June 19 after closing for three months. 

“We’ve artificially restricted our capacities,” explained General Manager Nate Reed. “We re-opened at 25 percent.” 

The property usually operates at 84 percent of capacity and is generally sold out on weekends, largely due to the popularity of its year-round indoor water park.  

“Now we cap room occupancy at 50 percent,” Reed said. “The lodge feels empty. We spent two months figuring how to reopen and how to operate.”

Developing new models for various facets of the hotel’s operations changes continually with updated information on how to react to COVID-19, he added. 

“It’s a fulltime job to manage COVID,” Reed said. “Every day there are multiple curveballs related to it. Keeping up with our own policies is a dynamic situation.  Things change daily, hourly.” 

Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar restaurant started three years ago as an extension of the owners’ nearby shellfish farm.  Like all other restaurants in Washington, they suddenly closed on March 17. They reopened for take-out service on April 23 and the dining room reopened at 50 percent capacity on June 3.

Before the March closure, “we were just a dine-in restaurant,” co-owner Shina Wysocki explained.  They pivoted operations to focus on delivery, add pizza and other casual dining choices, and to “give customers the option to take home local farm products,” she added.

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