Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort to suspend operations

  • Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort has decided to shut down during the coronavirus public health emergency. FILE PHOTO
    Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort has decided to shut down during the coronavirus public health emergency. FILE PHOTO

The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort has made the decision to temporarily shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The closure will result in a loss of roughly 1,000 local jobs, according to Amelia Island Tourist Development Council Managing Director Gil Langley.

On Thursday, Langley told the News-Leader that hotel operations will cease when the last guest checks out Sunday. He said the resort is the largest private employer on Amelia Island. 

Calls and emails to local management of the Omni property as well as to corporate communications staff were not returned by press time Thursday, but Omni Hotels & Resorts President Peter Strebel issued a statement this week.

“The global health crisis has hit the hospitality industry swiftly and significantly,” Strebel says in the statement. “Like many hotels, we’ve felt the impact and made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations at Omni Amelia Island Resort effective Sunday, March 29 until June 1, 2020. Our intent is to reopen the hotel as quickly as possible, although we will reassess each
week. Our associates are the heart of our business and we’re working diligently to minimize the impact for them. We are thankful for the continued support from our guests and family of associates and know we will weather this storm and come out much stronger.” 

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the hotel industry in the U.S. supports nearly 2.3 million jobs directly and a total of more than 8.3 million jobs, which include direct hotel operations, guest spending, indirect supply-chain and induced. As a result of the coronavirus, 44% of hotel employees in every state are projected to have lost, or lose, their jobs in the upcoming weeks.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association says 88,631 direct hotel-related jobs have been lost in the state, along with 305,146 jobs lost supporting the hotel industry.

Hospitality is the biggest private sector employer on Amelia Island, according to the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, and is racking up huge losses in revenue and jobs due to the current public health emergency.

Joe Murphy, public relations director for The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, said his hotel  plans to remain open while continuing to follow state guidelines.

“That means our bars and lounges are closed,” Murphy told the News-Leader. “All dining is being served from Coast (restaurant) to-go. Salt (restaurant) is closed. The beach is closed but the pool is open. The pool and beach chairs are sanitized after each use. We staff to the level needed to exceed guest expectations and deliver legendary service. The hotel is open with a number of packages open to the public. Our spa is open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (but) no massage-related treatments are available. If a spa guest books a treatment, they get use of lounges and (a) private, adult-only pool.”

Murphy did not say if employees have been laid off or their hours cut at The Ritz-Carlton.

Langley said the Ritz-Carlton had guests in only 28 of its 446 rooms on the night of Wednesday, March 25, but believes it intends to stay open. He added that the Hampton Inn on Sadler Road has made the decision to close, and it closed Thursday. Calls by the News-Leader to the hotel were not returned by press time Thursday.

Calls to several other branded hotels on the island regarding the state of their businesses were also not returned, but small, owner-operated inns did talk about how the virus is affecting them.

Theresa and Bill Hamilton have owned and operated The Fairbanks House on South Seventh Street for 23 years. The bed-and-breakfast has 12 rooms, but no guests, because the Hamiltons have opted to close.

“We kept getting cancellations, and talked about it and made that decision,” Theresa said. “At some point, we realized we don’t want to be part of the problem.”

She said cancellations started coming in March 12 and kept coming for about week before there was a pause.

“Then, when the bars closed March 17, we still had guests here, and the tours were open. We closed the dining room. I started calling people with reservations, but they were already on their way. We couldn’t do our social hour, and we had to seat them six feet apart outside.”

After their last guest left Sunday, the couple made the decision to close, something they have done only during mandatory hurricane evacuations.

“A lot of our guests come every year,” Theresa said. “They come for some self-care, to see pretty things and relax.”

The couple has yet to lay off their single employee, but they also haven’t hired any new employees, something they usually do for the spring, usually the inn’s busy season.

Ricky and Tracey Escalante are the owners of the 10-room Hoyt House on Atlantic Avenue. The B & B is still open, but Tracey said they lost 75% of their March business and all their reservations have been canceled.

“March, April and May are our bread and butter,” Tracey said. Now, the couple has laid off their employees and are running the inn themselves.

Tracey said Hoyt House remained open as of Wednesday, with no adjustment of rates. However, with a compromised immune system, Tracey said she would be “iffy” welcoming guests from areas such as New York, where there is a high concentration of confirmed cases of coronavirus.

“We can let people eat on the porch instead of the dining room and abide by guidelines,” she said.

The Addison on Amelia Island, owned by Lisa and Ron West, has 13 rooms but hasn’t had any guests since March 20. 

“We have lost $60,000 since March 1,” Lisa said. “We have a ‘maybe’ reservation for April 10.”

The Addison has eight employees, which the Wests have so far been able to keep, performing tasks such as deep cleans and maintenance.

The Wests remain open without adjusting their rates, but are offering free wine and beer with meals that guests buy from local restaurants offering takeout and delivery. Guests can have dinner in their rooms or in the private dining area outside.

Prior to the Omni’s closing, Langley said 1,700 employees in the hospitality industry had lost their jobs on the island.

“Our first priority is to make sure residents and industry employees stay healthy,” Langley said. “Until we get past this, we can’t encourage people to come visit us.”