The state of tourism today on Amelia Island

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 9, 2020

Gil Langley

Gil Langley, President of the Amelia Island Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB), appeared before the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at their July 7, 2020 Regular Meeting to update the community on the current tourism situation.

Langley reported that the CVB budget for the year, drawn primarily from bed taxes, had been projected at $7.7M, but due to adverse impacts from the Covid-19 pandemic, anticipated revenue has dropped more than $3M to a revised budget of $4.4M.  

Tourism started the year strong with full employment and robust bookings, but on March 12, the picture changed, with 2,000 employees being laid off in tourist related businesses.

With the arrival of Covid-19 and stay-at-home requirements, the CVB stopped all media plans in the marketplace.  Due to the need for lead times in placing advertising, some of the ads for Amelia Island tourism continued to appear because they had been placed last fall.

With City and County decisions to reopen the beaches for Memorial Day weekend, the CVB initiated a small range campaign on May 25.  However, on June 22 they stopped all social media advertising, and stopped TV advertising July 3.  Due to the time needed to cycle through the ad pulls, some spots still appeared on local TV this past Sunday.  Langley assured commissioners that everything will be off the airwaves by Friday.

Langley said, “We’ve canceled over $254K in tourism advertising in the last week.”

Langley touched on other CVB initiatives designed to help the local tourism industry.

“We are in the tourism marketing business; tourism is the lifeblood of our community.  But we’ve taken several steps not normally associated with that business.  Under TDC leadership, we gave $50K to Barnabas to help with services to displaced hospitality workers,” Langley said.  He also noted that while most of his budget goes to marketing, his budget provides assistance to 25 county special events and the Shrimp Fest.  Through CVB subsidies, artists like Itzhak Perlman and Yoyo Ma have performed on Amelia Island.

At the County’s request, the CVB surveys over 365 bed tax collectors in the county every day to determine where are visitors are coming from.  Those reports go to the County Health Dept and Board of County Commissioners for contact tracing.

Other CVB initiatives to assist tourist-related businesses and their patrons:

  • Created a website devoted to COVID information to explain the current rules and policies in the City and the County.  Langley said that while that information is available, it was not in a cohesive county or city format, and local government relied on the media to get the word out.
  • Created a website to help small businesses market their products and services at no charge to businesses.  This created $8500 worth of business in first month.
  • Created better Covid educational materials for businesses, both for employees who interact directly with the public and those who work “in the back of shop.”
  • Distributed over 200 social separation kits to downtown businesses, which included decals for the floor and even a tape measure to mark off 6 feet of distance.
  • Distributed 2000 facemasks since last Wednesday to customers and businesses alike.

Langley said, “We are taking the approach that tourism is going to suffer greatly through the end of this fiscal year.  We are not running any advertising for the next 4 months and not doing any promotions.  We are answering questions from the media and trying to do what we can to help businesses, especially in the downtown area that are dependent on tourism.  We will lose some businesses because of drop in attendance at the peak of the tourist season.”

He added that island accommodations are usually 100 percent occupied for the July 4th weekend.  But this year it appears that occupancy was closer to 60 percent.

Langley noted that the Republican National Committee has signed contracts with every hotel on the island for the August dates around the Republican Convention in Jacksonville.  He said that his staff must work to make the experience positive for the island’s guests while protecting the residents from virus exposure and inconvenience at the same time.

Langley summed up the situation thusly:  “We’ve got beaches that are under a cloud and could be required to close again, the threat of hurricanes at the height of tourist season, the economy is cratering, we’ve got Covid and today we found out Florida now has brain eating amoebas.  I agree with Commissioner Chapman that we are at war, but we will take proper steps and get through this.”

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