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Tourism Industry Watching For Fallout From Coverage Of State's Heroin Problem

Katherine Welles
Those in the tourist industry say they are concerned, but there's no evidence so far that the coverage of Vermont's heroin problem will discourage people from visiting.

Before last January most people across the nation would have said "maple syrup," "fall foliage" or "skiing" when asked to list the images that come to mind when they think of Vermont.

Now "heroin" might also be on that list.  

There’s been widespread national news coverage of the state’s heroin problem ever since Gov. Peter Shumlin’sState of the State address.

The coverage has much to do with the contrast between heroin addiction and Vermont’s idyllic image - an image that tourist-dependent businesses rely on to attract visitors. 

T?he New York TimesRolling Stone, Vice, The Daily Beast, Politico and Al Jazeera America have all produced news features on Vermont's problem in the months since Shumlin's speech.

Tori Ossola, vice president of tourism at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, says businesses she works with are keeping an eye on whether the coverage will hurt tourism.

"My family, with [two] little ones, was planning to spend a week renting a house in Manchester this summer. Are there drug related crime issues there?" - comment on fodors.com

“I do think that there is some concern,” she says. “However, people seem to be sitting back and taking a wait and see approach.”

So far there’s no indication that Vermont has lost any allure as a destination.  

When 250 representatives of the state’s tourism industry gathered in Manchester last week, there was a request for a show of hands from those who had fielded calls about the heroin problem. No hands were raised.

Willie Docto of Moose Meadow Lodge in Waterbury was part of a panel discussion at the gathering.

“It’s not an issue currently, but it’s good that we recognize that there is a problem and that we can be prepared should it arise as an issue for tourism,” says Docto.

At least a few potential visitors have raised the issue, though. A recent post on a popular travel forum reads: 

“My family, with [two] little ones, was planning to spend a week renting a house in Manchester this summer. Are there drug related crime issues there? Is this problem something visitors need to be concerned about?”

Fears about safety worry AnneMarie DeFreest who owns the Round Barn Inn in Waitsfield.

DeFreest says as a mother she’s long been concerned about the impact of drug abuse on her community.  Now she’s wondering if the national coverage will diminish some of Vermont’s appeal to visitors.

“That could impact, it could shade, it could put a damper on the branding and the image of Vermont that we’ve all worked so hard to preserve,” DeFreest says.

The Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing says there are currently no plans to change or add to the way the state is marketing itself to potential visitors.

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