An unstable tourism industry amid a global pandemic has resulted in the loss of 300 jobs on Amelia Island.
On Friday, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort informed 300 furloughed employees they would not be coming back to work.
Michelle Valle, marketing director for the Omni, said in an email to the News-Leader the company suspended operations at 44 of its 51 hotels in March, and furloughed “a significant number of employees.”
The Amelia Island resort reopened in May, but business has not returned to what it was before the pandemic, she said.
“We’re unable to reinstate employment for our associates who remain on furlough,” Valle said. “As a result, we were saddened to notify these associates last Friday of the change in their employment status with Omni Hotels & Resorts.”
A major contributor to the economy on Amelia Island is hospitality, with hotels, resorts, inns, bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rentals employing thousands.
Gil Langley, CEO of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and managing director of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, said while numbers are slowly improving, upcoming meetings and conventions have been canceled and not rescheduled. He said the loss of visitors for events such as the Florida-Georgia college football game are affecting the hospitality business on the island.
“Florida-Georgia weekend” usually sees sold-out hotels and local businesses hosting capacity crowds, but the capacity at TIAA Bank Field is at 25%, so there will be only 17,000 to 18,000 in attendance at the 80,000-seat stadium. Pre-game and post-game activities have been canceled, leading to fewer people spending the weekend at game-related activities, and a loss of business to local businesses. He said there is plenty of room availability on Amelia Island for this weekend, which is normally sold out for the event. Add reduced crowds from college sports to canceled events and the loss of visitors due to restrictions on air travel, and the result is a downturn in local hospitality employment.
“The hotels and resorts are losing staff in customer service – banquet staff, front desk personnel, housekeeping,” Langley said. “Those positions are demand-related, and so when business is down, there is no opportunity to keep those jobs. With so many conventions canceled, the next few months will be tough.”
Valle said the layoffs at the Omni involve about 300 employees, roughly 30% of the resort’s pre-COVID-19 number. The employees are eligible for rehire and are encouraged to consider positions available at other Omni properties, she said. The Omni extended health benefits and provided more than $3 million in grants through its charitable foundation to employees affected by the pandemic since it began, she said.
“We remain optimistic that in the relatively near future the effects of the pandemic will fade and we will be able to welcome back a full complement of associates, all who are available for rehire, but we are painfully aware that that time has not yet come,” Valle said.