Now U Know: UWL grad student shares what happened to Coulee Region travel and tourism during COVID-19 | Local News


Travelling in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic was an impossible maze to navigate. The safety of activities, locations, and environments were being determined through data and changing almost daily.

The percentage of American travelers who had trips affected by COVID-19 rose from 44.3% in mid-March of 2020 to 72.8% by early April, according to a leading travel research organization, Destination Analysts.

The travel impacts of COVID-19 were felt fast and hard. As more research was done on the virus, more became known about the safety of certain activities. This allowed for everyone to make more informed decisions about travelling amid a pandemic. By the end of June 2020, the three most important attributes when selecting a destination were affordable, relaxing, and uncrowded, according to Destination Analysts data. Now, how did this affect the La Crosse area?

The area surrounding La Crosse is popularly known as the “Coulee Region.” This nickname comes from the French-Canadian word couler, which means “to flow.” Subsequently, a coulee is the product of flowing water erosion creating gullies, valleys, and an overall distinct natural environment, which helped create La Crosse’s beautiful hiking, biking, and skiing opportunities, as well as stunning views.

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It should come as no surprise to us that when our lives were turned upside down by COVID-19, people found inspiration to travel to the Coulee Region for its wonderful outdoor recreation.

The Coulee Region offers a wide array of parks, biking and hiking trails, and water sports. Once here, you can explore the relaxing environment with relative uncrowdedness. These offerings are affordable, too. Many are free if you have the gear. We know from the low inventory at sporting goods stores and recreational vehicle dealerships that many people were picking up new outdoor hobbies.

The UW-La Crosse Tourism Research Institute’s faculty and students in collaboration with the La Crosse County Convention & Visitors Bureau conducted three studies in May 2020, December 2020, and May 2021.

In these studies, respondents were asked what sort of activities would bring them to the La Crosse area. In each study, the most popular response was outdoor recreation. Truly, the Coulee Region carries value in its outdoor recreation opportunity’s ability to bring people into the area.

Pandemic and all, there was no shortage of out-of-state license plates at recreational parking lots during summer 2020. This trend was statewide as well, as the Wisconsin Forum reported that state parks saw a 17.6% rise in parks attendance, along with over 100,000 increase in state park sticker sales from 2019 to 2020.

The ability to travel during the pandemic was greatly increased with the availability of the COVID-19 vaccines. On April 19, 2021, all adults in the U.S. were declared eligible to receive a vaccine. Around this same time, Destination Analysts saw a coronavirus-era low in Americans’ perceptions of travel activities as unsafe – down 69.4% in April 2020 was down to just 35.1% in April 2021. This sense of relief was short-lived, however, due to rising cases from the Delta Variant.

Even in the face of adversity, La Crosse area tourism businesses are starting to see positive signs. Hotel stays and similar businesses are beginning to see their demand go up. Sure, it is not quite like it once was, but it is better than it has been.

One thing has not changed, and that’s the opportunities for outdoor recreation. As we continue to rebound as a destination, the wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities the Coulee Region has to offer will continue to lead the way, and reason, visitors come back.


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