Coronavirus Impacts Hospitality Industry

Amelia Island tourism is a dominant industry here. The travel/leisure/hospitality sector is feeling the sting of the coronavirus outbreak more than others.

Amelia Island Beach Scene Atlantic Ocean Seashore Sandy Path
Amelia Island’s Beaches — A Top Tourist Attraction
–Steve’s Marketplace —

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

It’s business as usual around Nassau County. With a caveat.

One sector is feeling the sting of the coronavirus outbreak more than others. It’s the travel/leisure/hospitality sector. Travel plans are being revised, postponed and cancelled – even at the prestigious resorts here. These disruptions trickle down to other businesses that served the 680,000 tourists who stayed overnight on Amelia Island last year.

Elsewhere, most county businesses are doing fine. Regina Duncan has not seen much disruption from her perch as president of the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce. Even so, the Chamber is being proactive and vigilant.

“HOT TOPICS ” — Outbreak Prevention & Control at the Local Level, What Businesses Can Do

To inform businesses of best practices, the Chamber is holding a “Hot Topics” event March 13, 2020 with the leading county health official. Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, the director of the Florida Department of Health/Nassau County, will discuss “prevention and control” of the virus on the local level.

In the meantime, tourism is a dominant industry here. So it must be protected and nurtured. In fact, tourism is the golden goose that contributes millions of dollars to our economy each year.

As the top tourism official, Gil Langley has guided the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council through difficult periods before. He is already amending the TDC’s approach and efforts in light of the virus.

Historic District Downtown Fernandina Beach, Centre Street.
Historic District — Downtown Fernandina Beach, Centre Street
Amelia Island’s Drive Market

For instance, Langley’s staff is focusing on “closer-in markets” like Atlanta and towns/cities in Florida, where people can drive to Amelia Island, rather than fly. The TDC’s focus had been on farther-away destinations like Boston and Chicago, since visitors from there typically stay longer.

Langley is aware of several corporate cancellations at local hotels, although these groups could always come back in the fall. Previous outbreaks like the Zika virus, the swine flu and SARs temporarily chilled travel within the U.S. It seems the coronavirus is having a similar effect.

The TDC does not sugar-coat the virus. Its’ website carries a bold advisory that it is “closely monitoring statements” from national/global health agencies. Langley wants visitors to have a quality, stress-free experience here, so they will come back. Half of our tourists are repeat visitors, in fact.

 “I think we’ve had a pretty good run over the last 10 years,” Langley says about the impressive tourism record here. “It’s set us up for prosperity in the long-term.”

Anticipated Slowdown

In anticipation of a slowdown in travel, local hotels are being flexible with bookings, while offering packages of amenities as incentives. Langley’s group encourages hotels to maintain their room rates, rather than discounting.

People will continue to travel for vacation, regardless what is happening in our country. They will adjust their plans accordingly.

Looking ahead, Langley anticipates short-term challenges.

“Obviously, we’ll have a tough go of it for the next quarter or so,” Langley says. “The ongoing fear of travel will take a while to work through.”

Steve Nicklas Financial Advisor
Steve Nicklas

_____Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor for a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns appear regularly in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his website.  He has also published a book, “All About Money,” consisting of some of his favorite columns over the past 20 years. The book is available at local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].