St. Joseph is full of museums, bed and breakfasts, local dining and small business shopping, all of which add up to make the city a tourist destination.
Beth Conway, communications director at the St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau, said St. Joseph is poised to be a popular tourist spot as the world begins to open up.
“Research is showing us that people are anxious to get out,” Conway said. “But they’re just not quite ready for big places, theme parks, some people still don’t want to fly, so we’re a perfect destination for a nice day trip or a couple of nights overnight stay.”
Conway recognizes St. Joseph’s many museums, bed and breakfasts, dining and shopping as things that bring visitors into town. This past week was National Travel and Tourism Week, and many local organizations used that time to make plans for what they hope will be a successful tourist season.
“It’s just phenomenal the reach that we get,” Conway said. “Obviously, people probably come here because they’ve heard about the Pony Express or Jesse James, but once they walk in those doors and see all the wonderful things that we have … we’re just a very unique community. And when they get here and they see it, they become intrigued and want to stay longer.”
Conway said they have seen visitors from at least 10 different states so far in 2021. Christy George, Downtown liaison, said she has been seeing more life in the Downtown area, as well.
“I love seeing people walk around, looking at the sculptures, going into the shops, eating at the restaurants, so it makes me feel better just about life in general,” George said. “Seeing the activity down here and knowing that you’re outside as you come and go, so it’s a safe environment, and everybody is very excited for people to come back Downtown.”
Many events already are being planned, with Mayfest happening Downtown. Conway and George said that other events coming up this tourist season include outdoor festivals, day camps at museums, the summer concert series and new artwork on the Downtown sculpture walk, just to name a few. However, officials realize that COVID-19 hasn’t gone away yet, and there still needs to be safety measures in place.
“It’s wonderful to have events on the calendar, but they’re probably going to be modified to a certain level to maintain safety,” Conway said.
Tourism is a large contributor to St. Joseph’s economy. Conway said it brought in $186 million in 2019, and the industry employs about 4,000 local residents. Conway said money still was spent last summer, just not quite as much as in a non-COVID year.
“Anything is better than last year,” Conway said.
George said she saw the St. Joseph community support each other through the pandemic, as businesses found ways to serve customers either online or through delivery or curbside pickup. But now that things are reopening, more traffic is soon to follow.
“Tourism brings so much money back into the community,” George said. “So it just helps us be a better, more vibrant community, and we can offer more to people as we grow.”