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SLCo businesses, like Express Shuttle, tied to travel hopeful about winter despite COVID-19

Posted By Regional Development
August 14, 2020

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2020 has been an especially difficult year for businesses in Utah’s tourism and recreation industries.

The state’s recommendations for travel during COVID-19 still ask residents to limit non-essential travel as much as possible — though much of Utah is in the low-risk category.

Early concerns about COVID-19 community spread prematurely ended Utah’s ski season, with many resorts choosing to close weeks early. For a short time, national and state parks were also closed to the greater public; all have since reopened. However, resorts' season pass pre-sales for 2020-21 are already underway, and those that provide support services are hopeful visitors will return despite the added challenges of the pandemic as Americans look for domestic destinations.

“We’re growing optimistic about skiing and the winter,” said Melanie Marier, CEO and owner of Express Shuttle.

According to the Kem C. Gardner Institute, “Utah’s tourism economy has been on an upward recovery since April [2020] in the areas of visitation, employment, and hotel occupancy.”

Express Shuttle is one business impacted by COVID-19 that has served traveling Utahns and visitors for more than 30 years — from skiers to business conference attendees. Beginning in the '90s, it was the largest airport shuttle company serving the Wasatch Front.

“By encouraging the public to share the ride and by utilizing the carpool lanes on the freeways, Express Shuttle helps take vehicles off the highways, reduce traffic congestion, pollution, and wear and tear on our roads,” according to Melanie.

During the pandemic, Express Shuttle has seen an increase in local business, rather than out-of-state, after it temporarily closed March 21-June 1 due to heavy COVID-19 disruptions in travel. The business operates with a mix of owner-operators and Express employees — totaling about 30 drivers. It’s doing approximately 15% of what it did in 2019.

“It was a lot of stress reopening, and there were ups and downs, but once we returned, our loyal customers were quick to come back and reschedule,” Melanie said.

Express Shuttle saw a good increase in reservations 'til August. The business’s biggest goal is to stay a COVID-free company. To do that, drivers are utilizing masks, gloves, sanitizer and cleaning high-touch surfaces between rides.

Express Shuttle applied for and received a Small Business Impact Grant in Round 2 after being ineligible in Round 1.

“I’m staying in the black until the winter comes,” Melanie said. “I was trying to make things work, and the timing of the business grant was perfect. It will allow me to give staff as many hours as possible.”

Until then, residents and visitors are being asked by the State of Utah to support locally-owned businesses — like Express Shuttle — when traveling and venturing to destinations off the beaten path.

If you’re a small business like Express Shuttle and have been impacted negatively by COVID-19, learn about the Small Business Impact Grant, and apply today at slco.org/covidgrants/.