Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 28, 2020
There is an old saying that when the gods choose to punish you, they grant your wish.
So for all the local residents who complain about the tourists taking over the island, worry no more. Over the past few days, the occupancy rate at island visitor accommodations has hovered around 9 percent.
The Ritz is trying to remain open, although it has only 25-28 guest rooms occupied. But the Amelia Omni Plantation will close this weekend and furlough a thousand employees. Other establishments that have closed to date include the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, the Sadler Road Hampton Inn and several B&Bs.
And we may be seeing only the beginning of the crisis.
Reaction to the coronavirus has been devastating to not only our hotels and resorts, but to the 1,800 employees who to date have lost their jobs as a result. This does not even account for the numerous restaurant servers and bartenders who are hourly workers.
All of these unemployed workers are also consumers. As their buying power is reduced, other local businesses will also feel the pain.
According to Gil Langley, President & CEO of the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, during the first two quarters of this fiscal year, tourism brought in $43M in sales tax alone. Projections for the second two quarters, assuming a partial recovery at least in July, are somewhat short of $16M.
Langley said that thanks to his reserves, he has been able to keep his staff employed, although he has had to cut contracts for internet tourist advertising and dismiss his British affiliate. He has pulled $2M in advertising that was intended to promote island tourism through the remainder of the fiscal year. Although some people have criticized what they see as ongoing advertising, Langley explained that due to scheduling, what people are seeing is advertising that was purchased last fall.
No one has a crystal ball for predicting when tourism will pick up again. Langley said that for planning purposes, he is looking at the island being open for business once more in July. But, he adds, “It took 3 years for us to recover from 9/11, and 5 years to recover from the recession. This time it may take us even longer to recover.”
Langley said, “It is heartrending when you see 1,800 people lose their jobs. I hope that when we come out of this, residents will embrace tourism with a more friendly hug.”
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.