We Can All Be a SPARK!

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This summer, travel is expected to have a significant rebound. Increased vaccination rates and associated declining numbers of COVID-19 cases viral spread are to thank for the reopening and removal of restrictions. Many are booking their travel plans with beaches and more rural, small towns topping the list of desirable places to visit (Destination Analysts, 2021)1. Yet, no matter the destination there are a variety of business regulations, labor shortages, supply chain setbacks, and other factors of recovery that will continue to affect patrons’ visits to restaurants, bars, hotels, shops, and attractions.

There is no question that these businesses have faced an extremely difficult year and are integral components to vibrant healthy communities. It is imperative that people heading out to support local businesses remember the ways these businesses stepped up and prioritized patrons’ needs and well-being during the height of the pandemic. Showing support for tourism businesses is important, but so is remembering to be a SPARK in community recovery.

Faculty, students and staff enjoy lunch at the 1887 bistro at the Talley Student Union. Photo by Marc

Businesses and cultural centers are working to overcome a variety of challenges in this period of COVID-19 recovery, some enduring (e.g., limited housing for workforce in tourism communities), others will be unexpected and short lived (e.g., Colonial Pipeline gas shortage), but all are affecting business’ abilities to return to normal operations. Labor shortages are the dominating narrative in the hospitality industry at the moment. Despite some employers developing incentive packages to recruit more employees, 84% of restaurants are reporting staffing below pre-pandemic levels s (Restaurant News Resource, 2021)2. These labor shortages are due to a myriad of reasons including but not limited to: workers feeling unsafe in their position due to potential exposures to those that may be sick, childcare needs, wage concerns, J-1 visa workers that typically support seasonal destinations being unable to get to the US due to travel restrictions, and some workers having found work in other fields as shutdowns disrupted the travel industry (US News & World Report, 2021)3.

These workforce struggles are being compounded in areas also experiencing record-breaking visitor numbers, such as in the Outer Banks (News & Observer, 2021)4. While these labor shortages are larger-scale issues that will likely take time and potential policy changes to work through, another challenge regarding guests’ expectations and actions while visiting businesses is an easier fix. Research has shown the effects that isolation and lockdown can have on people’s communication and socialization skills and that sometimes play out in public settings affecting frontline hospitality staff (UAB News, 2020)5. In recent weeks stories across the travel industry from airlines (NBC News, 2021)6 to restaurants (Boston Globe, 2021)7 have noted an uptick in disruptive guests since opening back up. Looking to solutions for this issue, every one going out can play an active role in supporting these businesses.

This is where the Be a SPARK campaign was created. As Memorial Day and summer approaches and with the CDC’s recent announcement of masking expectations, it’s important that when we go out into the public, we remember the tenets of SPARK: Show Support, Be Patient, Act with Respect, Spread Kindness.

Be a SPARK in the community. Businesses and cultural centers are vital to vibrant communities and as they recover we all have a role to play. SPARK stands for show Support, be Patience, Act with Respect and Spread Kindness. Show support by making a purchase or donation, like or follow in social media, and/or post a picture/video from visit to social media. Be patienct by preparing for longer waits, checking times and hours before visiting, and being flexible. Act with respect by following regulations of the location, being considerate of other patrons and living and let live. And spread kindness by remembering gratitude, letting people know when they do a great job and enjoying your outing! This campaign is provided by NC State Extension, Tourism Extension, the College of Natural Resources, the Mountain West Partnership and the CREATE Bridges project.

As simple as being a SPARK sounds, the campaign acknowledges that people have endured incredible struggles and losses over the past year. As we begin to visit other communities, being a SPARK helps us remember we can only control the way we act and react to things. Each letter of the campaign is designed to help us support community recovery during our visits to other communities, and in our own communities:

Show Support by purchasing or donating to a local business or supporting the place on social media.

Be Patient by preparing for longer than usual wait times, looking up hours and days of operation before heading out, and being flexible for changes the business may have had to make to adjust during this recovery period.

Act with Respect when it comes to the regulations of the business, those set by owners to keep patrons and staff safe and also be considerate of other visitor’s varying comfort levels.

Spread Kindness by remembering gratitude and how far we have come from where we were a year ago, letting people know when they have done a great job, and most importantly enjoying yourself when out and about.

Here’s to fun, safe travels this summer and to be a SPARK in the community!


1 Destination Analyst (2021, May 4). May 4th Update on COVID-19s Impact on American Travel.

2 Restaurant News Resource (2021, May 17). National Restaurant Association Unveils Findings from Latest COVID-19 Operator Survey.

3 US News & World Report (2021, May 13). Worker Shortages, Fear of Coronavirus and Industry Dislocation Stymies Jobs Recovery. US News & World Report.

4 News & Observer (2021, April 28). Help wanted on Outer Banks Tourists are there – but workers aren’t, businesses say. News & Observer.

5 UAB News (2021, September 8). How has COVID-19 affected the way we communicate?

6 NBC News (2021, May 4). FAA warns of spike in unruly, dangerous passenger behavior. NBC News.

7 Boston Globe (2021, April 30). Call it ‘enforcement fatigue’: Restaurant workers are tired of fighting unruly customers. Boston Globe.