Disneyland as a Vaccination Site? Airports as Test Centers? The Travel Industry Pitches In

Many corners of the travel industry are looking for a way to pitch in to help end the pandemic.

More than a dozen U.S. airports now double as virus testing sites, including Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway, Los Angeles International, Tampa, Newark and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Inside many terminals, XpresSpa has pivoted from offering airport massages and manicures to rapid coronavirus tests.

Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., has been closed to guests since March; in December, they lent one of their ultracold freezers to a hospital in nearby Salinas; the special freezer can maintain temperatures of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, which are required to safely store some coronavirus vaccines.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, the State Fair of West Virginia signed an agreement with the Greenbrier County Health Department, pledging the use of their facilities for testing, vaccination and even a surge hospital, if needed. Closed in 2020, their grounds have since been the site for three free drive-through testing clinics, and are now currently operating as a vaccination center for local residents.

Many of the Orange County residents who get their vaccine jabs at Disneyland will have gone for coronavirus testing at the Anaheim Convention Center, which, like convention centers across the country, saw traffic screech to a halt in March. Jay Burress, president and chief executive of Visit Anaheim, estimates the freeze cost the city $1.9 billion in lost revenue. He responded by donating unused supplies to local nonprofits. In July, the convention center parking lot was converted into a mass testing site.

“How do we reopen safely? That’s been our goal all along,” said Mr. Burress. “To market our destination, either as a leisure destination or a convention destination when hotels aren’t even open for leisure travel, is spinning your wheels.”

Sharon Decker is president of North Carolina’s Tryon Resort, which includes 250 rooms and an equestrian center, as well as a 300,000-square-foot indoor arena, on 1,600 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She wasn’t surprised in October when Polk County, N.C., officials reached out to see if she would be willing to donate that arena as a vaccination site, although she knew it would present logistical challenges. The site opened in mid-December.

“We forged a real partnership with public health officials,” she said. “It had to be true public-private partnership to pull this off. But when you have shared goals, for a healthy economy and healthy businesses, you can figure it out.”