By John Haughey | The Center Square
The real obstacle in rebuilding Florida's post-pandemic tourism economy will be convincing visitors that attractions and businesses are safe, hospitality and restaurant industry leaders said last week.
Among ways to do that, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said, is a four-phase rebound strategy that will tout industry standards being developed in restaurants and hotels tailored to specific groups.
“We are in phase one now. Phase two is when the stay-at-home order is lifted,” Young said during a teleconference of the Re-Open Florida Task Force’s 35-member Working Group on Tourism, Construction, Real Estate, Recreation, Retail and Transportation.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer-at-home order is lifted, Young said, tourists are not going to immediately flock to the state because the COVID-19 crisis “has changed consumer behavior and psychology.”
They’ll need to be induced, she said, and need to see businesses are open and attractions are safe. To do that, she said, the state should enlist Floridians to show the Sunshine State is open for business.
“People who live in the state will be incredibly important. The entire tourism industry needs to encourage Floridians to take an in-state vacation,” Young said, calling on the group to appeal to “state patriotism that Floridians already have in abundance.”
Phase three will target national travelers, and phase four will be “expanding these efforts globally,” she said.
There are indications the state’s tourism and hospitality industries may recover sooner than later, Young said, citing an 11-fold recent increase in visitors to Visit Florida’s website, which now includes a dashboard charting the shutdown’s impact on the state’s largest industry.
The questions industry leaders must answer is how to develop a “data-driven approach” and protocols “for employees in the public space” in businesses now shuttered as nonessential.
Fontainebleau Miami Beach President and COO Philip Goldfarb said among the first items that could be addressed is encouraging business travel as a precursor to leisure travel.
“Consumer confidence is going be at the root,” Goldfarb said, asking officials “to encourage the media to donate more time to public service messaging.”
Tim Petrillo, co-founder and CEO of The Restaurant People, which operates 45 restaurants nationwide and 25 in Florida, said business owners are concerned about supply chains.
“There will be significant strain on supply chains as everybody tries to get open” at the same time, he said.
Employers need “a clear path” in how they can operate safely.
“What does outdoor dining look like? How do we enforce social distancing on our guests?” Petrillo asked.
“These guidelines have to be easy to follow,” said Cody Khan, owner of Holiday Inn Resort in Panama City Beach. “We don’t have PHDs cleaning rooms and washing dishes.”
The framework may already be in place, such as measures being implemented by Restaurant Brands International, which operates 18,000 Burger King restaurants, 4,500 Popeyes restaurants and 4,000 Tim Horton’s restaurants globally, CEO Jose Cil said.
The company developed protocols with the CDC to screen employees before shifts with a short questionnaire and a temperature check that is logged daily. The company also has adopted a paid sick leave policy.
“We made it a policy early on, anybody who comes down with this, go home to get better. We will pay sick leave for 14 days,” he said.
Hoteliers said protocols developed in Singapore and Las Vegas, including electrostatic deep cleaning and other standardized best practices should be incorporated into the state’s marketing plan.
The hospitality industry must now consider, “What does the guest room of tomorrow look like?” Boca Resort and Club President and Managing Director John Tolbert said.
“If we are going to reopen, we have to have amenities,” Goldfarb said, adding he is “hearing through the grapevine” that south Florida beaches may not open for months. “I think that is a big mistake.”