Can show caves in Texas and around the world survive after COVID-19?

Show caves have been financially devastated by COVID-19′s effect on tourism

Brad Wuest, President of ISCA and a co-owner President/CEO of Natural Bridge Caverns explains the impact of the coronavirus on show caves. Photo shows Cuevas del Monte Castillo in Spain.

SAN ANTONIO – When most people think about the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on business, tourism, or even education, the show cave industry may not immediately come to mind, but it’s mired in all three areas.

There are seven show caves in Texas, including Natural Bridge Caverns, Wonder Cave, Cascade Caverns, and Cave Without a Name which are all less than an hour’s drive from downtown.

Why should you care?

During the first half of 2020, 94% of show caves worldwide closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the International Show Caves Association (ISCA). There are 144 show caves in the U.S. and more than 1,600 show cave businesses throughout the world.

COVID-19 closures resulted in employee layoffs with more than 40,000 people worldwide losing their jobs, including 3,440 people in the U.S. That number accounts for 36% of show cave employees in the U.S., according to ISCA.

How does this affect children?

Show caves are a popular school field trip option for many school districts and “each year millions of school children visited show caves to learn about geology, hydrology, paleontology, archeology, conservation, and ecology. The educational value of field trips cannot be replaced by in class or remote learning,” ISCA officials said.

Children on school field trips account for 1.05 million visitors to show caves in the U.S. The cancellation of those field trips in the first half of 2020 accounted for a 24% decrease in visitation which also means a massive loss of revenue stream which could cripple the show cave industry.

What have the caves lost in 2020?

The ISCA shared the following economic impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on caves for the first half of 2020.

Visitation Lost:

  • Worldwide = 42 million or 59%
  • U.S. = 4.3 million or 63%
  • School Children account for 13% of visitation lost worldwide and 24% in the U.S.

Revenue Lost:

  • Worldwide = $577 million or 61%
  • U.S. = $109 million or 63%

Employee Layoffs or Furloughs:

  • Worldwide = 58% of the workforce or 40,000 employees (Of those, 83% or 33,300 back to work upon reopening)
  • U.S. = 36% of the workforce or 3,440 employees (Of those, 60% or 2,090 back to work upon reopening)

“Show caves play an important role in nature tourism and sustainable economic development, providing jobs, and helping the economy. We all know this to be true, but the data had never been collected to quantify the significance of the show cave industry on a worldwide basis,” said ISCA president and co-owner of Natural Bridge Caverns Brad Wuest. “We hope these results will create more awareness and support for the show cave industry.”