South Florida Tourism Copes With Fourth Of July Coronavirus Restrictions

Jul 3, 2020

Hotels and other hospitality businesses are facing a different Fourth of July this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 cases keep spiking in South Florida and throughout the state. Local governments are instituting restrictions that will likely affect the worry-free vacations that folks would normally be expecting.

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Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties have closed their beaches for the holiday weekend in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Several cities have canceled their fireworks displays, too.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson talked about the state of the South Florida tourism industry. He was joined by Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, and Scott Berman, tourism and hospitality industry analyst with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: Scott, when you hear Wendy talk about hotel occupancy of 30 percent, maybe 50 percent, what does that spell for the industry in the summertime in South Florida?

SCOTT BERMAN: Last week, greater Miami hotel occupancy was in the low 40s. That is up from the high teens during the first week of April.

But about half of what it would normally be without a pandemic for this time of year. Is that fair to say?

BERMAN: That's a fair question. We're coming off of Super Bowl and a number of other seasonal events. Occupancy pre-pandemic was in the high 70s. And you can't talk about occupancy alone. You have to talk about the room rates as well, a complete deceleration of room rates across the county.

With the price of the rooms going down, fewer heads in beds, on this July 4th weekend, the business opportunity obviously has been hugely impacted by the pandemic and then the closing of the beaches. Is the season lost?

WENDY KALLERGIS: It's in a different world, obviously. We're hoping that with all of these regulations that we have right now, that the cases will be lowered and we can look forward to a better summer. As Scott said, the numbers are really down. We just really have [to have] confidence, [to] keep the confidence for our visitors that we we want them to come. I think that our focus should be on lowering the cases and getting the rate higher up in the occupancy, too.

Are there practices that South Florida is doing or is not doing that other places may be implementing here to try to look for business, at whatever business there still exists?

BERMAN: The owners and operators of South Florida hotels have done a really good job in terms of pivoting to this new reality. There's been a lot of industry protocols and guidelines around safety, hygiene and security, which these owners and operators have access to.

It's very important for this to turn, to regain that consumer confidence. South Florida is largely a fly-in market. Most consumers of hotels and cruise lines fly here. They don't drive. As long as commercial aviation is impacted and the itineraries are at well under 50 percent of normalcy, we, a community of hoteliers and related industries, are at the mercy of the airline industry. And safety begins there as well. Their protocols and all of this conversation around social distancing and middle seats being open, it doesn't help create that consumer confidence that's so required.

The transcript of this interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.