Talks are underway on how Florida's tourism industry can make a comeback from the coronavirus crisis. Jorge Pesquera, President and CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches, says the travel and tourism sector has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 shutdown.
"According to the U.S. Travel Association of the 22 million people who filed for unemployment, about 8 million are in travel and tourism, so that's exactly 36 percent of the unemployment claims."
And he says that's especially true in Palm Beach County.
"In the past couple of weeks, we've run occupancies in the hotels in the neighborhood of 17 to 20 percent, when we would typically be running in the 68 to 75 percent range."
But in a hint of optimism, Pesquera says that he believes Palm Beach County is well positioned for recovery, citing research that shows people will want to go to a beach destination that is less congested and with smaller cities.
"The fear of being in a big crowd in a theme park, in a big spectator event of some kind is going to take a little longer than people who just want to be in more of a self-isolation opportunity, which is what we offer here."
Meanwhile, 80 percent of local hotels are still open, but only for folks considered "essential lodgers", which includes health care workers and first responders.
Pesquera says those include:
"Folks that have been in the frontlines, in the hospitals, are taking care of patients with the virus, who were fearful of going home to bring this to their loved ones."
That's why, he says, some hotel chains are offering free rooms for those folks.
"Hilton Corporation, for example, has announced that they are going to give away a million room nights across the country to frontline health care professionals."
There are a number of Hampton Inns offering those free nights in Palm Beach County, along with several hotel chains offering reduced rates for healthcare workers and first responders.
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