The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on the Mt. Hood & Columbia River Gorge region’s tourism stakeholders and the RDMO. Early in the pandemic, our region experienced a significant drop in overnight visitation, partially due to the proximity to the Portland metro area, resulting is devastating losses for local economies.
In addition to this drop in overnight visitors, once outdoor recreation was deemed safe, a rush of Portland metro area residents flooded our region. The summer of 2020 saw significant congestion and stress on understaffed and under resourced outdoor recreation areas, including an increase of trash on trails and near outdoor recreation facilities.
The RDMO staff transitioned much of their normal “tourism” work early in the pandemic to be a core member of the North Central Regional Economic Recovery team which was set up by the local Regional Solutions representative. The RDMO’s role was to represent tourism and the Chambers of the Commerce of the Columbia River Gorge. The RDMO worked alongside the Regional Solutions representative, Business Oregon, Worksource Oregon, Mid-Columbia Economic Development Disctrict (MCEDD), and the Columbia Gorge SBDC to help businesses in the region access resources, share concerns, and needs, and receive the information they needed in a streamlined manner. The RDMO worked collectively to offer webinars and trainings, increase access to PPE, and get CARES Act relief into our communities.
The RDMO also worked closely with U.S. Forest Service and the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance to help host a regular bi-state recreation meeting with land managers, mayors, county commissioners, port authorities, and land stewardship parties to share learnings, resources, and align on decision making and messaging to locals and visitors about outdoor recreation use in the Columbia River Gorge and neighboring areas (Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Hood National Forests).
Support for tourism business
In response to the beginning weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, when stay-home orders were in place, the Mt. Hood & Columbia River Gorge Region was inspired by the trending creative work that fans of the Getty Museum were posting on social media, where folks recreated their favorite works of art with stuff they had at home. The RDMO launched its own version called “HoodGorge Homemade,” an Instagram contest to encourage fans of the region to recreate their favorite scenes and memories from visiting the area with objects they had at home. The best entries won gift cards to local businesses in the region. The response was great from both social media followers and local partners, the campaign was also highlighted on KPTV.
To leverage Travel Oregon’s Give the Gift of Oregon campaignthe RDMO encouraged followers to buy local over the 2020 holiday season, the Mt. Hood & Columbia River Gorge RDMO launched the 10 Days of Giveaways campaign on Instagram. For 10 days the RDMO celebrated local businesses in the region with a new theme every day. Followers were asked to tag their favorite local businesses or places they wanted to visit in the region in the comments for a chance to win a $50 gift card to a local business in the region. This campaign put dollars back into local communities and businesses saw and felt fans celebrating them on social media. The day after posting the giveaway to Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, a visitor stopped by Waucoma and told the staff they saw the post about the contest on Instagram and it reminded them to shop local for the holidays.