Thursday, March 19, 2020

Despite dire forecast, 'Event City' planners are doing their best to keep summertime gatherings on track

The homepage of the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau includes a link for COVID-19 updates.
By Joseph Schulz
On Monday President Donald Trump said the coronavirus outbreak could last until summer, and if it does, Oshkosh's economy could lose millions of dollars.

Oshkosh has earned the nickname "Event City" for its plethora of summertime events. Events include EAA's AirVenture, which draws roughly 700,00 aviation enthusiasts a year, as well as music festivals such as Rock USA, Country USA and Lifest.

Currently, those events are scheduled to go on as planned. Still, event coordinators are cautiously paying attention to recommendations from local health departments.

In terms of how the COVID-19 outbreak could affect the local tourism economy, Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Amy Albright said the CVB is trying not to speculate.

"This is something that is really uncharted territory," she said. "This is nothing that anybody in the tourism industry across the world has experienced before."

The CVB is examining the situation in two-week chunks to consider what needs to be canceled, she added.

In terms of EAA AirVenture, EAA Communications Director Dick Knapinski said the event has the "luxury of time."

"Nobody knows where we will be by the end of May, much less in June or July," he said, adding that EAA is trying to look at the situation rather than think about "what ifs."

This year wouldn't be the first time AirVenture faced possible cancellation. Last year, a heavy rain before opening day forced event planners to scramble, and in 2010 Oshkosh had about 10 inches of rain the week before AirVenture, making the campgrounds "unusable," Knapinski said.

The air traffic controller's strike of 1981 almost put a damper on the event as well, but he said the situation is different this time.

"Nobody for sure can predict what will happen two months from now," Knapinski said.

AirVenture injects roughly $170 million into the Fox Valley economy each year, and EAA will be monitoring what other significant summer events in the state are doing and communicating with local health officials before deciding to close, Knapinski added.

Two of those events are Country USA and Rock USA, which are, as of now, going on as planned, according to a press release.

Event organizers could not be reached for comment, but the release added that "with nearly three months until CUSA, and four months until RUSA, the situation now could be drastically different."

Another festival that's still planning to go on as planned is Lifest, an annual Christian music festival.

Festival Director John Dougherty said Lifest is monitoring information coming from the CDC and the city of Oshkosh.

Last year Lifest brought in roughly $6 million to the local economy and canceling the event would negatively impact the local economy, Dougherty added.

"That's why for everything that we can do, we're going to attempt to move forward as planned with our event," he said. "But obviously, we can't predict the future."

In terms of the likelihood that any of Oshkosh's signature summertime events will face cancellation, Albright said everything's still up in the air.

"It's uncharted territory, even the CEO of Hilton Hotels said that in 35 years of being in the hospitality business, he's never seen anything like this."

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