Officials have begun to weigh how the new coronavirus outbreak could impact tourism on Cape Ann and the North Shore. 

"We're trying really hard to keep our head down and keep business as usual," said Discover Gloucester Executive Director Elizabeth Carey, "We want to tell people, 'We're open for business but please be certain to use the appropriate amount of precaution.' And we'll just see what happens."

Discover Gloucester is posting information on how Gloucester has and is preparing for COVID-19 and changes caused by it on its website, discovergloucester.com.

After Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts due to the virus, organizations and schools started launching websites to share news and updates specific to the outbreak. Colleges and universities across the state have also started exploring options to have students attend class from home. Many announced plans for online learning by Wednesday.

Ann Marie Casey, executive director of the North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said officials are discussing how the virus is affecting the region with respect to school and college closings and cancellations of larger events.

"It's a cause for concern, and we're monitoring it closely and trying to be very helpful as far as the information we can share with folks," she said. 

The region's tourism industry is an important contributor to Cape Ann and the North Shore's economy. In Cape Ann's communities, small businesses that line the downtowns have historically survived quiet months because of the revenue brought in during warmer weather, and in Salem, Halloween season. If the crowds hitting the beaches and Salem's Pedestrian Mall drop in size, so too does revenue for businesses, said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem.

"From the economic perspective, the scariest thing about it is it's going to affect everything," she said. "People are going to hunker down, as they should for safety reasons and health reasons."

Those impacts could also have a long reach.

"It's going to affect business in the short term, no matter what," said Ken Riehl, CEO of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. "It's already affected the international traveler, with the president's call (on Thursday to stop international travel to Europe for 30 days). We don't know what the summer will look like. We'll just have to wait and see if this thing gets stabilized or if it gets worse. 

"We just had a big college fair that was canceled," said Riehl. "We're doing our Irish Sweepstakes virtually over Facebook Live, which will be fun but we won't have over 200 people over at the Gloucester House (Restaurant). Any event that has more than 25 people is canceled. We're trying to keep up with the guidelines — staying six feet away from people."

Hawthorne Hotel in Salem has been watching the situation carefully with no major disruptions but is preparing for the possibility of a COVID-19 case eventually walking through its doors.

"We've been getting inquiries and calls, and people who've had groups in that age bracket have had cancellations," said Claire Kallelis, the hotel's general manager. "At this point, we're encouraging people to come to the Hawthorne Hotel and dine in our restaurant. We're really focusing on the steps — cleaning, hand washing, and the steps we're doing to not only safeguard our employees but our guests."

Then, of course, there's Salem's Haunted Happenings — the annual crush of tourism that has continued to grow every year. With seven-digit crowds measured in the last two years and Halloween in 2020 falling on both a Saturday and full moon, officials aren't sure what to expect.

"If we're still talking about this a month from now or two months from now, the entirety of how we structure things has to change,"  said  John Andrews, executive director of the Creative Collective. The organization programs Salem area malls, parks and more with events that help artists taking money home for their work.

"I don't even want to think about how this could affect October. I can't wrap my head around what that means," Andrews said.

He also said he was frightened by the unpredictable nature of the disease.

"It's going to be a rough stretch at this point, no matter what," he said, noting that there's no way to know when the outbreak will subside. "The small businesses we typically represent, two months of down revenue could end their business. Working with microbusinesses the way we do, this is a big deal — a really big deal."

Still Andrews stressed that residents should shop local and stay local as much as possible in the weeks and months ahead.

"Be smart. Be intelligent. But if you can support, don't stop supporting," Andrews said. "We're doing our best to get people to go out and do more one-on-one stuff. Shop locally even more so. Buy stuff online. There are a lot of vendors losing conventions, bigger festivals — how can we support them as well?"

Staff writer Michael Cronin contributed to this story. Staff writer Dustin Luca may be contacted dluca@gloucestertimes.com, at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

For continuing coverage of the ongoing COVID-19 threat on Cape Ann, follow and use the #CapeAnnCOVID hashtag on social media. 

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