Tourism is all but gone, but occupancy remains high at the Kootenai River Inn in Bonners Ferry.
Owned and operated by the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the inn closed its casino, spa, lounge, pool and fitness operations a while ago to comply with and encourage social distancing protocols as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization.
But its hotel remains at a relatively high occupancy level – for now, despite Gov. Brad Little’s “stay-home” order, which was announced Wednesday.
“Our guest rooms remain open while the Tribal leadership discusses the next steps,” said property general manager Tom Turpin.
Part of the reason is it provides lodging for commerce and transportation workers in North Idaho.
Turpin indicated that a train maintenance crew is staying at the hotel and has been long-term guests at the property. He said their location is a popular stop for long-haul trucking on the north-south route from Canada through Idaho to Interstate 90.
Turpin added with its proximity to Canada and Montana the hotel frequently accommodates local, state, national and international government officials as guests.
He estimated the property was at nearly 70% occupancy but expects that number to dwindle as the train crew eventually moves on. The hotel kitchen remains open for carry-out or room service for guests.
“Our No. 1 goal is the safety of our customers and team members,” Turpin said. “We are operating as an essential business until it’s no longer appropriate.”
The facility opened in 1986 on Tribal lands overlooking the Kootenai River in Bonners Ferry. In 1993, the Tribe signed a gaming compact with the state and opened the casino, and the property was renovated in 2005 to add the spa.
Turpin said the decisions made by Tribal leadership are made in conjunction with city, county and state orders and are reviewed several times per week.
“The Kootenai River Inn is just essential for all of the (transportation) workers,” Kootenai Tribal chair Gary Aitken Jr. said. “They’ve got to keep the tracks going so people can transport the goods and the things we need all across the country, so we need to keep that going.
“We have some workers that are currently on the job up here, so we want to accommodate them … and also any stranded travelers, we want to be able to try to help out as best we can.”
Reached Wednesday early afternoon, Aitken said he heard Gov. Little’s orders but had not had a chance to react to them yet.
“We haven’t been able to talk since the edict came out, so we’ll have to address if we want to make any further changes,” he said. “But we’re down pretty bare bones, so I may be able to consider continuing on as we are.
“We will try to take our precautions as we get more information.”
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