NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Niagara Falls, a destination for people all over the world, was not immune to the devastating economic impact of COVID-19.
"Everything was pretty much shut down including a lot of the hotels closed completely. Some that stayed open were down to practically zero percent occupancy," said Andrea Czopp, the vice president of operations with Destination Niagara USA.
She told 2 On Your Side with job loss and closures, it was a difficult few months. Fortunately, it didn't last forever.
"We started to see a little bit of a shift towards the positive when things started to reopen right before the 4th of July last summer," said Czopp.
Now with restrictions being lifted and more people getting vaccinated, Czopp told 2 On Your Side they're optimistic looking ahead.
"We're feeling very hopeful for this coming season," Czopp said. "Now the Maid of the Mist is in the water as of last week. All of our attractions are pretty much open. We're getting ready to be open across the county and all of the traveler sentiment that we're seeing is showing that there is a lot of pent-up demand."
Czopp said, more than likely, they think people who come to Niagara Falls and Niagara County this summer will be traveling by car rather than by plane, so they're targeting marketing efforts towards people within an eight-hour driving distance.
Since the situation with COVID is still fluid in some ways, she added that they're also prepared to pivot their strategy if necessary.
"We have the ability to shift on a moment's notice based on everything that we're seeing and we're watching it all the time," Czopp said.
One factor working against any return to normalcy is the fact that travel is still restricted across the border.
The president and CEO of Destination Niagara USA previously told 2 On Your Side in 2019, Canadians spent $59 million in Niagara County on Visa cards alone.
However, a factor that will likely help the return to normalcy is that the travelers will be able to find plenty of wide-open spaces in Niagara County if they're looking to avoid crowds or higher-risk activities.
"I think people can travel even coming out of a pandemic and feel pretty confident that they are safe," Czopp said. "All of our attractions, all of our hotels, restaurants, all of our partners are being very conscientious of safety, in doing everything that they can to keep people safe and have people enjoy their experience."
While a pre-COVID-like tourism season is likely still a ways away, Czopp said Destination Niagara USA is anticipating summer 2021 will be much better than summer 2020.
She explained, "I feel the sentiment is that we're really looking forward to a strong summer and beyond and hoping that this is truly in the rearview mirror for good."