Following their reopening at the end of May, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park each saw 26% fewer visitors in June compared to June 2019. This and other data suggest that visitors were coming to Moab at lower rates this year compared to previous years and that international visitation has not been fully replaced by local, domestic travel.
It does not appear that the decline is merely explained by visitors choosing to visit places in Moab other than the parks; the vast public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management seem to also have seen less usage.
Figures from the Sand Flats Recreation Area, one of the most popular off-roading locations in Moab, show that visitation there was also down, though not as extremely as it was in the parks. The area, co-managed by Grand County and the Bureau of Land Management, saw a 10% decline in payments at the entrance from June 2019 to June 2020.
The overall figures for 2020, not just the month of June, are more striking. Because the national parks were closed to the public from late March to late May, the parks both registered zero visitation in April, contributing to total park visitation this year being less than half what it was at the same point last year.
The data all seem to point in one direction: Since reopening, domestic travelers to Moab — many of whom local businesses say are driving in from Colorado, Texas and California — have not replaced the tourism Moab typically gets from Europe and other foreign sources.
In particular, European tourism in the U.S. has been halted by travel restrictions implemented by foreign countries as the country continues in its failure to tame the pandemic domestically. In turn, international travel to Moab has virtually evaporated.
International travelers in Moab tend to spend more per individual than their domestic counterparts, according to an economic report from the Moab Area Travel Council, meaning foreigners’ absence also represents decreased spending at local businesses, yielding lower tax revenues and challenging businesses’ abilities to remain open.
Yet despite these dire signs, some businesses in Moab are busier than they typically are at this time of year.
One example is Outlaw Jeep Adventure, owned by Jeremy Rowan, who shared figures with the newspaper that showed he did more than double the amount of bookings last month compared to the same time last year.
Rowan said he had expanded his business’ capacity since last year, adding RZRs to the stock of vehicles visitors can rent, and he believes more people are interested in renting their own vehicles for health reasons over riding with others on a Jeep tour.
Nena Barlow, who owns Barlow Adventures, another Jeep rental and guided tour company, said that July has so far been the busiest her business has seen and that June was also up from last year.
Barlow and Rowan said that they have tried to hire back employees they had before, but for varying reasons, the employees couldn’t come back to work, leaving them to dip into the labor market for new employees — something they said the $600 weekly increase to unemployment checks has made more difficult since many workers in Moab stand to make more from unemployment than they did or do at their jobs.
But Rowan also said he is feeling hesitant about pursuing new hires at this point in the season, especially given the uncertainty of “getting shut down” in the coming months. He said he wants “more assurance from the state” and local governments that Moab will stay open for business.
“I don’t want to hire someone just to lay them off,” he said.
Brooke Dimond, co-owner of Simply Moab, said that she has been able to hire staff and, with the extra business they have received, extended raises to all of her employees
“We want to invest it back into our employees,” Dimond said of the additional business. She added that she was grateful that Moab has not had to shut down again since May and that, because of the retail nature of her business, she was allowed to stay open when many other businesses in Moab and around the state were not.
Chile Pepper Bike Shop General Manager Chad Wilson said that June was fairly normal for the bike rental and service shop, in terms of the numbers his business saw, but expressed uncertainty about the months ahead. He said that event cancellations were not likely to bode well for visitation in the coming months.
“You can’t predict it, but we’re hoping it’s a fairly normal fall,” Wilson said.