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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

West Yellowstone Tourist Bookings Drop Due To Coronavirus Restrictions In China

A file photo of a tour bus entering Yellowstone Park from the West Yellowstone entrance.
Yellowstone National Park (PD)

Restrictions on air travel out of China due to the coronavirus are already having an impact on Montana’s tourism season. Businesses in West Yellowstone say bookings by Chinese tourists are down.

West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary Sue Costello says the chamber’s members are reporting that Chinese customer bookings are down for April and May due to flight restrictions out of China as it grapples with the coronavirus outbreak there.

"And again, for some businesses that may have relied primarily on that market, it’s going to be more painful than it is for somebody who’s maintained a mixture."

While Costello says those losses could hurt individual businesses, Chinese tourists are just a fraction of overall visitorship to Yellowstone National Park, and subsequently, West Yellowstone.

According to Yellowstone’s statistics, the number of Chinese visitors arriving to the park by bus increased by nearly 90 percent from 2013 to 2016, though Costello says the number of Chinese tourists last year decreased.

This comes as U.S. health officials say coronavirus is likely to spread here in the U.S. But Costello says her members haven’t seen any signs of impacts.

"What’s not happening is people are not running around like chicken little right now. They’re just monitoring, keeping aware of what’s going on."

She says the Yellowstone tourism economy expects to see the same droves of U.S. visitors it does every year.

Norma Nickerson, director of the institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana says a drop in Chinese tourism would have less of an impact on Glacier National Park, which has never drawn as many Chinese travelers as Yellwostone.

Nickerson told the Billings Gazette that Banff National Park in Canada could see a downturn in visitors.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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