Rebuilding America: Florida tourism tries for comeback
The breezes beckon as they always have at Crane’s Beach House, a luxury oasis tucked away in South Florida.
The boutique hotel in downtown Delray Beach features upscale amenities, including a personal concierge and an intimate tiki bar nestled in the garden.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, however, luxe touches aren’t the main attraction anymore.
Instead, cleanliness and minimal guest contact are the new standards of excellence.
Rooms now stay vacant a day before and a day after guests arrive at the 28-apartment-style suites, which regularly undergo deep cleaning.
Every guest receives a “safety” kit featuring face masks, single-use gloves and antiseptic wipes. Check-in is remote. Housekeeping is limited.
And the tiki bar is closed, for now.
“Our no-contact procedures are the total opposite of what the hospitality or travel industry is normally doing,” said Cathy Balestriere, Crane’s general manager. “We base our business on providing very personalized service, and now we have to go to a different experience.”
For tourism to rebound, a move away from close social contact is the only way forward, Balestrieri and other tourism leaders say.
Experts said enticing tourists to travel and spend money means making them feel confident they are not engaging in risky behavior. The only way to create confidence is to underscore that hotels and other tourist spots are doing everything they can to keep people safe.
“They’ve got to see people cleaning, whether its a pool chair wiped down after each use or the doors to a restroom,” said Derrick Steinour, director of sales and marketing at Hilton West Palm Beach.
”Visuals create that comfort,“ Steinour said. ”And you’ve got one shot because first impressions matter.“
Cleanliness is such an important factor in tourism that some communities are seeking to obtain a type of Good Housekeeping seal of approval from the International Sanitary Supply Association, which has a program outlining strict standards of cleanliness for businesses.
Florida’s top industry trounced
Tourism, Florida’s No. 1 industry, has been hard hit by the pandemic.
After years spent marketing the state, Florida’s tourism industry attracted 127 million visitors in 2018, creating more than 1.5 million jobs that year, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm.
2020 was on track to be a record year for tourism, until the pandemic hit.
Nationwide, the pandemic will create $1.2 trillion in economic losses this year. About $520 billion are in direct travel spending, meaning travel and tourism has taken the brunt of the virus.
Florida is the sixth-hardest hit state by COVID-19′s impact on tourism, according to a study by WalletHub. And the tourism and retail industries have the most jobs at-risk when it comes to dealing with the public, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The AHLA estimates that Florida has lost 336,467 of 747,705 hotel and hotel-supported jobs.
With Individual hotels and major operators projecting occupancy rates below 20%, some hotels may simply close their doors, putting 33,000 small business at immediate risk, the AHLA said.
Experts believe tourism will rebound to some degree, but in a much different way.
“We will re-emerge as a completely different industry than we were,” said Peter Ricci, director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Tourism officials said they are targeting nearby residents as their first customers. Transportation logistics guide this decision.
Airlines have cut flights so dramatically, most tourists likely will need to be local, regional or otherwise reachable by car.
Therefore expect a lot of marketing for “staycations” that seek to lure people from homes to stay at hotels or visit area attractions.
Beaches and wide open spaces are expected to draw tourists now and in the coming months as people tiptoe back to daily life. Florida cities with small to mid-sized towns and plenty of outdoor recreation are expected to be popular with tourists eager to get out and about, tourism leaders say.
About our Rebuilding America series: The Post and Daily News are focusing on key categories — from health care to tourism and transportation to real estate, retail shopping, dining and more — to help navigate the new ways of this world during the recovery in Palm Beach County.
Tourism coming back
But it’s not the mass scale, pack-them-in leisure market that made Florida a global attraction. Instead, you can expect:
— Staycation deals and offers
— Cleanliness and minimal guest contact are the new standards of excellence.
— Beaches and wide open spaces are expected to draw tourists now and in the coming months as people tiptoe back to daily life.
— Small- to mid-sized Florida cities and towns and outdoor recreation are expected to be popular with tourists.