CAVE CITY — The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Cave City area tourist attractions can be summed up with one word — devastating.
Just when the spring tourist season was about to get underway, the pandemic hit, causing the attractions to close to the public.
“We are seasonal attractions here. We went through November, December, January and February when there is not very much business and when March comes we’re really needing that revenue coming into the coffers,” said Greg Davis, executive director of the Cave City Tourist and Convention Commission. “”When this thing hit mid-March we didn’t get the benefit of Easter, spring break and it’s almost the summer, so I mean it’s been devastating to us.”
There has been some assistance available to the businesses, such as funding for personal protective equipment.
“That’s for those people who kept some of the people on,” Davis said. “There may be later on some low-interest loans possible for some of the motels, but it’s gong to be tough.”
The tourist commission could offer assistance only to help cover the post to promote the businesses.
Davis explained that the tourist commission for the past two and-a-half months has become more of a support organization.
“In other words, helping the restaurants and motels as far as things come down from the state that they are required to do whether it be hand sanitizer, masks and some of the other types of things,” Davis said.
Monday was the first day the attractions could reopen to the public after being closed for more nearly three months.
Davis pointed out that they reopened but had to follow certain restrictions.
“For instance, Diamond Caverns will only have tours of 10 people. Tours will be at least 30 minutes a part. People will be required in some cases to wear masks, or if not, they will be strongly encouraged to do so,” he said.
Chris Randall, park director for Dinosaur World in Cave City, said Monday was pretty busy.
“When I got here this morning there were already cars waiting to get in,” he said.
Dinosaur World kept three employees during the shutdown, but all the rest were furloughed, Randall said.
As for the loss of revenue during that period of time, Randall said there will be no way to make it up.
Mammoth Cave National Park opened its Discovery Tour last week and is referring to it as an extended tour.
“They are only letting 50 people per hour in that section of the cave. There’s only one tour,” Davis said.
Bill Pott, owner of Jellystone Camp-Resort Mammoth Cave, said his staff has been processing refunds since March 13.
“We reopened on May 15. You look back and we probably cancelled two-thirds of our March reservations. We cancelled all of April. At one point, we were full for Memorial Day. We ended up with about a third of the people here. We probably cancelled 90 percent of May’s reservations,” he said. “I think it’s probably going to be about 60 percent of June’s reservations. We’ve got cancellations all the way out through October related to this. It’s just ridiculous the impact this has had on us.”
Part of the problem is not being able to reopen the campground’s water activities and its playgrounds.
“Our guests can camp, but all the things that make Jellystone Park Jellystone Park the state has just tied our hands and said ‘no,’” he said.
The campground did receive some funding for PPE, but Pott said that was spent quickly.
Pott also applied for a loan through the Small Business Administration, but didn’t receive as much as he had hoped.
“We’re not too sure what we’re going to do. We’re doing our best. We’re limping along. We’ve brought back what employees we can at this stage, but really this past weekend I should have had 150 families in there. I think we had reservations for 30. I think we had five to show up,” Pott said.
He estimated that the campground has issued about $120,000 in refunds in the last three weeks.
The campground’s playgrounds are supposed to open June 15, but its water activities won’t open until June 29.
“I need the entire summer to make enough to pay my people, to pay my bills, to pay our debt service,” he said. “We lost spring. We lost May and we’re losing June. At this point, I’ve already lost a third of my year and here I am. I’m going to lose the next three weeks on top of that. And the state is offering no economic assistance. Not even a ‘sorry, we’re doing this to you.’”