I recently checked in with the head of a large tourist business in one of the main Amish settlements. He told me that 2020 “was certainly an absolute disaster.” Things are somewhat better this year, but apparently not by a ton. That said, it is only May, and states are still in the process of releasing their citizens from restrictions.
So I’ve been wondering about how well tourism will bounce back in Amish communities. Especially given all the negative coverage that Amish have gotten – first around mask-wearing, and lately around not getting vaccinated at the rates non-Amish outsiders would desire them to. Will people be afraid to visit Amish places?
Let’s take a look at Holmes County, Ohio, the most-Amish county in the country, at roughly 50% Amish. And I don’t have official figures, but I would guess Holmes County is the second-most-visited Amish settlement, after Lancaster County.
What about their vaccination numbers? Via a new article from News 5 Cleveland looking at the tourism question, the overall Ohio vaccination figure is over 40%, while the Holmes County number is just 13-14%. That noted, Health Director Michael Derr puts this in perspective, saying that the figure “is really, really good”, given the vaccine’s newness, and the population in question.
Still, that’s a meager 1/3 of the total Ohio rate. So, are these low vaccination figures scaring people off from coming?
“I just assumed that might be a roadblock,” said Tiffany Gerber the Director of the county’s chamber of commerce and tourism. “So I was just I was surprised that people don’t ask.”
Instead, Gerber said she hasn’t taken any calls about the low vaccination rate.
“We see a little bit of activity on our social media, people just asking general questions about do I need to bring my mask? Do I not? But the vaccination question has just plain not come up.”
There’s also this:
She said the guests like the level of transparency some of the shops show to customers.
“I think people have already made their decision,” she said. “They either feel safe, or they don’t. And those Amish businesses that won’t be vaccinated won’t wear masks or putting signs up. So, people have a choice. And that’s I think what makes them feel safe is they can choose.”
So there seems to be little concern – at least expressed to official tourism channels – from those interested in coming to Holmes County.
Why might this be the case?
I’ve got a couple ideas as to why this might be the case. I think it goes beyond just people being tired of not traveling like normal.
I’m going to hazard a guess that the “typical” tourist to Amish Country (or at least to Holmes County Amish Country – Lancaster County may be a bit different, see below) is also someone who is probably on balance less-concerned about COVID in general, and by extension, vaccination.
For some people, part of the appeal of the Amish is that they do things counter to the dominant culture. Not getting vaccinated would count as that type of behavior.
Also, people don’t come to “exotic” Amish Country seeking a carbon-copy of the ways and values of their own culture and home environment (or at least they shouldn’t come with that expectation – like I notice sometimes people inexplicably have when traveling to foreign countries).
If you travel to a different place, that makes you a visitor and you need to be ready to adjust to the ways of that place. As long as there is nothing illegal about what is happening in that place, you have little grounds for complaint. You’re not required to be there, or to visit, say, private places of business. I think the people that are visiting Holmes County, and other Amish communities beyond that, are generally going with this understanding.
In fact, for some people, what they see as non-conforming behaviors and attitudes among Amish may be downright refreshing – and a big part of the appeal of going to Amish Country.
What about Lancaster County?
Now, briefly about Lancaster County, arguably the most comparable community to Holmes County, at least as far as size and amount of tourism. I said above that Lancaster County might be a bit different because, due to its location and size, it draws people from heavily-urban East Coast areas that are probably on balance less familiar with the Amish, and more culturally distant to them. Along those lines, I also believe Lancaster County is more heavily-marketed to a wider range of demographics – not just as a quaint country-style or family-oriented vacation, but also as something more upscale.
And for that matter, I think this would also apply to the “urban extensions” of the Lancaster County community – namely the PA Dutch markets planted around major metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Here the Amish are in some sense the visitors to the suburban and urban communities that they do business in.
So, I’d be less surprised to hear concern and complaints over this or that Amish COVID-related behavior at those markets, as well as in Lancaster County itself. But I’m not especially surprised that the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce is not inundated with the COVID-related concerns of potential visitors.