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April 3, 2020

CEO UPDATE

“These are the times that try men's souls.”


Thomas Paine wrote these words in his pamphlet “The Crisis.”  In 1776 America had waged a long, seemingly never-ending battle for the right to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Despite the suffering and heavy price paid, we as a country emerged from that crisis stronger, energized, and optimistic about the future.
 
Although it may be a cliché, in this crisis it appears that history repeats itself, and there are lessons to be learned from that struggle. In the battle against COVID-19, we are faced with challenges that require basic actions that are unpopular and difficult to implement and control, yet imperative for success. Many of these actions have had far-reaching impacts on personal freedoms, economic activity, social structure, and society itself.
 
The importance of the tourism industry has never been more apparent. As planes stopped flying, lodging establishments closed, restaurants struggled to feed us, and attractions locked the gates on amazing experiences, the global economy has ground to a halt. Locally, the decline of tourism threatens its role as an economic engine for Nassau County, and more importantly, the industry’s contributions to the quality of life. Nearly 2,000 people have been furloughed from lodging providers. Even more workers in dining, activities, and shops have been affected. The Omni Amelia Island Resort is the largest private employer in Nassau County, followed by The Ritz-Carlton.
 
Their stupendous loss of business translates to lack of money for employees to spend eating out, going to the movies, and in many cases paying to keep the lights on. As tourists stop coming, the survival of small businesses serving other small businesses is threatened. Vendors such as plumbers, gardeners, farmers, and florists are out of work. Many restaurants sold or donated their perishable items. But that’s not the end of the story. The travel industry continues to serve and innovate to the benefit of residents and visitors.
 
Several hotels remain open – operating at significant losses – to provide housing for essential workers or families taking care of loved ones. Those properties provide rooms for those that have no other options.  They remain ready to react in a worse case scenario if hospital beds are full. When the tide turns, open hotels will be critical to our economic rebound.
 
Restaurants have gotten creative, offering delivery, take-out, and curbside dining. Retailers deemed non-essential are exploring new distribution channels for Amelia Island goods.  Marlin & Barrel Distillery have switched from making rum to hand sanitizer in partnership with Amelia Island Soapery. Many stores are offering special hours for seniors. The list goes on.
 
This battle against COVID-19 will not be over soon and recovery will take years, not months. Recovery from the Great Recession took Amelia Island’s tourism industry 3 years to rebound. We expect a similar situation. Be assured, we are already planning for the future when our community again is stronger, energized, and optimistic.

RESEARCH

The last three weeks have presented novel challenges for all of us and the reality is that things may still get worse before they get better. While there are numerous studies on COVID-19 being conducted across the travel and hospitality space, here are some research highlights:

  • Last week travel spending for the nation dropped to just $3.8 billion, an 82% decrease year over year.  - Tourism Economics
  • The likelihood of consumers taking a leisure trip in the next six months has declined by more than 50% in the past month. - Travel Intentions Pulse Survey by MMGY
  • "Demand for travel won’t go away, but intent to spend will lessen…As the chart below shows, those surveyed during the latter half of the month stated that they were more likely to spend less on travel and leisure in the next 12 months, in comparison to our first-half-of-March respondents. This significant shift in consumer sentiment poses real and considerable challenges for the industry in the 12 months ahead.” - Smith Travel Research (STR)
  • According to STR, compared to last year, the week of March 22-28 saw:
    • hotel occupancy at only 22.6% (67.5% decline)
    • Average daily rate of $79.92 (39.4% decline)
    • Revenue per available room (RevPAR) of only $18.05 (80.3% decline).
    • STR and Tourism Economics are forecasting RevPAR to decline more than 50% in 2020 compared to 2019. 

There is good news though. A traveler sentiment study by Destinations Analysts shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans agree they “can’t wait to get out and travel again.” However, nearly one-third of American travelers say they will change the types of destinations they choose to visit after the coronavirus situation is resolved. 

We anticipate people will be looking for places closer to home that are less crowded and offer outdoor activities. Amelia Island fits the bill. We’re fortunate that we have a great foundation in visitation from drive markets in Georgia and Florida and we’ll be ready to start marketing to those audiences when rebound begins.  

EXECUTIVE ORDERS

NEW - Nassau County Executive Order Number 4 - If you rent a short term lodging unit (individually or in commercial lodging), this ordinance REQUIRES that you MUST:
  • Report names of individuals from the New York Tri-State area and the state of Louisiana to the Nassau County Health Department DAILY by both telephone and email.
  • Provide guests from NY Tri-state & Louisiana copies of this order as well as governor's executive orders 2020-80 and 2020-82.
  • Advise anyone from either location who is inquiring about rooms of the mandatory self-quarantine requirement.
  • Report to the AICVB DAILY the number of occupants and location of origin including city AND state. Use THIS FORM FOR SUBMISSION.
You can find copies of State and Nassau County Ordinances HERE

WHY ARE HOTELS OPEN?

Many of our commercial lodging properties have voluntarily closed and vacation rentals are closed as mandated by state executive order. The hotel properties which have remained opened are operating at extremely low occupancy levels; are executing county ordinance requirements and reporting procedures; and are following and exceeding CDC protocols. While the safety of our community is the top priority, there are benefits to keeping hotels open. They provide lodging for visitors who are taking care of family in the area such as elderly parents or to people working in various specialties  such as construction workers. Hotels are trying to keep some tourism workers employed while so many others have been affected. Given the worse case scenario, open hotels could serve as quarantine shelters or overflow to hospitals. Completely closing a hotel also makes it more difficult to rebound when we get the "all clear." Reopening a shuttered property takes longer and costs more than one that has been continuously operating - even with a skeleton crew and few guests. 

WHY ARE BEACHES CLOSED?

The short answer is to help keep our community safe. Our beautiful beach is an attractive draw to people - both locals and visitors. Keeping our beach open would have served as a potential lure for people to not only travel to Nassau County, but also it increased the risk of people not adhering to social distancing guidelines. While many people wish we could enjoy the beach during the beautiful spring weather, the strain open beaches would cause on our local resources  to monitor outweighs the benefits. While there have been suggestions to open the beach to locals only or just for walking, there are many reasons that complicate limited opening including the costs to enforce. Beach cleaning continues uninterrupted. The positive outlook of the current beach closure  is that Mother Nature is enjoying this time and will be there to welcome all visitors back when the time is right. 

We realize that business has been the farthest thing from usual these past few weeks and we are facing uncharted waters for the foreseeable future. To help keep business flowing, the AICVB has created the new Amelia Island Market. The online store will serve as a one-stop-shop for customers to support local Amelia Island businesses by purchasing merchandise to be shipped to their homes. This free opportunity will allow  you, our tourism partners, to sell merchandise and gift cards through the online store, but all revenue will be passed back directly to your business.  Already have an online store? Great, we'll link to it! If you don't currently sell online, now you can! Full details and the opportunity to submit merchandise are forthcoming, but our hope is that we can support local small businesses and keep our visitors engaged!

Learn More

RESOURCES

You can view the details of the CARES Act and your eligibility for aid on the US Travel site here, or use the guide to navigate which part of the CARES Act applies to your organization.

For additional helpful information and resources, visit the Amelia Island TDC COVID-19 Advisory Page.
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© 2020 Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
2398 Sadler Road, Suite 200
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

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