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Okoboji's Summer Tourism Season Drew Fewer Visitors Because Of Pandemic

Courtesy of Drew Dau
Fewer visitors came to the Okoboji area this summer because of the coronavirus, but those who did come still enjoyed concerts and events with COVID-19 precautions.

The coronavirus pandemic fueled a different kind of summer tourism season in the Iowa Great Lakes region.

Hotel-motel tax revenue was down 18 percent from April through June in Dickinson County and its communities, according to data from the Iowa Department of Revenue. July through September data isn't available yet.

Okoboji Tourism Director Rebecca Peters said visitor numbers have been “down considerably” this summer, likely because of the uncertainty over travel and the coronavirus.

“That’s sad, but we still have seen a number of families who made their way to Okoboji to have a family vacation,” Peters said.

Of the fewer visitors that came to the Iowa Great Lakes region this summer, many people waited until the last minute to book a vacation instead of booking it far months in advance, Peters said.

“They maybe decided on Thursday that they were going to visit that weekend,” Peters said.

She continued, “That allows them to see how our community's COVID numbers are doing and to ensure that they're staying low and that the attractions that they want to visit will be open and following safety measures. But it also allows them to make sure that they themselves are healthy when they choose to come visit.”

Some of the big summer events in the region were canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus. An art festival called Art in the Park was canceled. The Okoboji Blue Water Festival, a water quality celebration, was postponed from August to 2021. Weekly concerts at Preservation Plaza in Arnolds Park Concerts were delayed, and then launched with creative ways to social distance.

Peters said large circles were painted 6 feet apart throughout the concert venue to distance groups of people from each other so they could enjoy the events safely. People were asked to wear their masks until they arrived at their circles, she said.

“That just allows people to be outside and to have some visual cues, allowing people to social distance and enjoy live music and beautiful sunsets over the lake and then fireworks every Saturday night afterwards,” Peters said.

Peters said the community has come together to create a safe environment for tourism. She adds visitors have embraced safety measures, like wearing masks and social distancing.

Dickinson County has had 444 total coronavirus cases as of 12:30 p.m. Monday. The area saw a sharp increase in cases in the weeks following Memorial Day weekend, but cases have since climbed more steadily. Nearly 380 coronavirus cases in the county are considered recovered.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.