Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced new guidelines on Friday that allow lodging facilities throughout the state to open to 100 percent capacity.
Since June, Vermont hotels had been operating under restrictions that allowed just 50 percent of rooms or 25 guests and staff at a time, whichever was greater.
The new guidelines are a starting point, but according to local lodging owners and managers, more needs to be done for an industry that has been hit hard by the coronavirus.
"This is a small step in the right direction but it is not a silver bullet," said Lynn Green, owner of The Four Chimneys Inn in Bennington.
County-by-county travel restrictions implemented by the state is the biggest concern for those in the lodging industry.
The State of Vermont has determined that any county with less than 400 active cases of COVID-19 per one million residents is eligible for quarantine-free leisure travel.
Residents in out of state counties with more than 400 active cases of COVID-19 per one million residents are subject to travel restrictions.
"The premise is fundamentally wrong," Green said. "They're assuming that if people are not allowed to stay in licensed lodging establishments that they're not coming to Vermont. They are coming to Vermont, but in the meantime we are decimating the lodging industry in Vermont."
Vermont counties are exempt from travel restrictions.
Hotels have seen a drastic decline in occupancy since the pandemic began. In July 2019, Bennington's The Four Chimneys Inn had 92 percent occupancy. This July, that number dipped below 40 percent, according to Green. The decrease in occupancy has been felt by hotels and motels throughout Bennington County. Both large and small facilities have seen similar results.
Aspen at Manchester Motel, which offers 27 rooms, has seen around a 50 percent decrease from their normal September. The Safford Mills Inn at Bennington, which has three rooms for rent, is down around 60 percent from September 2019.
Despite the major decrease in business, Safford Mills Inn owner John Redding believes the state is trying to accommodate the lodging industry.
"I think the state and local community has done the best they can to deal with this unprecedented situation," said Redding.
Vincent Applegate, the general manager at the Aspen at Manchester Motel, said the latest guidance from the governor is "definitely not" enough for the lodging industry throughout the state.
Another factor in the decrease in hotel stays is the concern of safety. Some people just simply do not feel comfortable traveling right now.
"I see it," Applegate said. "I get one or two cancellations per day. The reason that they give is that it's unsafe to travel."
Hampton Inn & Suites Manchester front end manager Alexis Knouse says they, too, have been dealing with cancellations due to safety concerns. "We have had quite a few people for fall foliage cancel because they're coming from well out of state and they don't want to fly and such," said Knouse.
Those who do choose to stay at a hotel or motel have been following safety guidelines
"We are finding that the people who are traveling are taking this very seriously," Green said.
Green said she has been attending weekly conference calls with lodging establishments throughout the state, with some of those businesses being down 95 percent from last year's numbers.
"We were closed for three months," Green said. "We can never get those days back, and those were dollars we would have been saving toward getting through another winter."
Green said the overall consensus from those conference calls is that "if you cannot safely allow people to come to our hotels, then you have to help us on the other end."
Details about the state's travel policies, including the cross-state travel map, can be found at https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/coronavirus-covid-19/traveling-vermont.