Pandemic-hit Ashland is rethinking its tourism economy

If you’ve been to Ashland recently, you may have been struck by how normal this is. Tourists stroll along the main street, most of them without masks. Diners sit next to outdoor tables along Guanajuato Street, a walkway along Ashland Creek. Lithia Park is lush from recent rains. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is in full swing. You can almost forget that we have just emerged from over a two-year pandemic and that we are still experiencing a record drought.

Make no mistake: the pandemic has hit Ashland hard. It comes on the heels of two smoky summer days during which several performances of the festival, Ashland’s main attraction, were cancelled. OSF went offline for all of 2020 and most of 2021.

“Before the pandemic, we had people coming to Ashland for 20+ years,” says Drew Gibbs, owner of the Winchester Inn and two Ashland restaurants, Alchemy and Chateaubriand 36. “These were people who wanted to book the same thing. weekend every year. They didn’t care that they played OSF; they would be there.

While festival-goers, many of whom were elderly and wealthy retirees, stayed away, others turned up as the first wave of the pandemic receded. When Gibbs spoke to his clients, he learned that they were here for mountain biking or wine tours, or just passing by on their way to somewhere else.

Katherine Kato, director of Travel Ashland, says the Southern Oregon city’s tourist base developed long before Covid. “We anticipated this given poor air quality, an aging OSF audience, changing loyalty and a new type of visitor coming to Ashland,” she says. “The pandemic just broke everything.”


Ashland’s economy is based on tourism. Historically, Cato says, OSF welcomes about 120,000 unique visitors each year – more than a third of Ashland’s annual tourist flow.

Travel Ashland is responsible for promoting Ashland as a tourist destination and ultimately supporting the city’s economy. Every year they track trends and plan accordingly. In November 2020, almost a year after the start of the pandemic, Travel Ashland hired Destination Analysts, a San Francisco-based firm, to conduct visitor research and analysis to better understand new tourists coming to Ashland.

Free performance of The Green Show outside the Allen Theater of the Elizabethan Theater of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. For the 2022 season, OSF is offering eight live performances, three virtual shows and discounted ticket prices, which a spokesperson says aims to improve accessibility.

Surveys of 1,500 “tourists” from the region’s key markets helped them find out why people traveled and what their experience of Ashland was compared to other destinations in the region. Surveys have shown that visitors…

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