Smokeless skies bring last-minute tourists

ASHLAND, Ore – With the fear of smoke, tourism has become less predictable in summer in Southern Oregon.

Ashland summers are typically filled with visitors from out of town but after smoke filled summers the last couple years, August tourism took a big hit. This year, while some businesses are still receiving less business in the later summer months, others are picking up.

“We welcome the clear skies,” Katarine Cato, Travel Ashland, said.

The perception of smoke may be affecting tourism more than the reality of it. Last year the smoke caused many to cancel their southern Oregon vacations.

“We had to re-book a few trips due to the big fire, especially the ones in northern California,” Alyssa Moutsatson, Noah’s River Adventure, said.

With that smoke in mind, some chose not to book again this summer. However, with the clear skies, Ashland is now seeing an increase in last minute traffic and day-of bookings.

“They’re seeing the clear skies, they’re hopping in their car, they’re coming for the weekend and then they’re booking perhaps the day of or a day out, so there’s a shorter booking window, which therein lies less predictability,” Cato said.

Cato says summer travel is helping hotels close to I-5.

“With the new Ashland welcome center opening we are seeing great numbers, so there’s a volume of visitors coming,” Cato said.

“This year, it’s been better, absolutely. Just cause of the volume of smoke,” Oliver Warren, the Bard’s Inn, said.

The mostly-clear skies are also leading to fewer cancellations this summer.

“We get guests that come the same dates every time, so they know last year how it’s different and this year has been way better,” Warren said.

But that opinion varies. Tourism officials hope that when visitors begin planning for next year, they’ll see smoke in southern Oregon as the exception, not the rule.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has had nearly 30 sold-out shows so far this August, compared to 17 at this time last year.

One thing everyone seems to agree on. There is a higher morale among both visitors and residents with the blue skies.

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