The Amelia Island Tourist Development Council has given a grim report on the area’s tourism outlook in the age of coronavirus.
Gil Langley, the managing director of the TDC, held a briefing Tuesday to keep those in the local hospitality industry abreast of how the coronavirus is affecting business and how the TDC will support the industry during the pandemic and in the recovery.
The meeting was held at the Residence Inn on Sadler Road and was the last face-to-face meeting the TDC will hold “until this crisis is over,” Langley said.
In the next six months, local tourism had been projected to take in $86.6 million in taxable sales, based on a 0% growth rate. The scenario that tourism will capture half of that amount – $43 million – is “optimistic,” said Langley, who advised revenue could drop as much as 70%.
The TDC previously projected the county would get $4.3 million in bed tax revenue over the next six months. Now, Langley says, the best-case scenario calls for a 50% drop to $2.1 million in bed tax revenue, or as little as $1.3 million in the event tourism realizes only 30% of original projections.
“There’s no scenario that looks good,” Langley said.
Quoting Indiana Jones, he said the TDC is “making it up as we go” since there is no precedent for the current public health emergency. “From hurricanes to zika to the economic crash in 2009, we have all had downturns in our industry, but nothing this fast and this severe,” he warned.
Langley began by showing how quickly the downturn in tourism has affected Amelia Island.
“Coming into 2020, I think we all had the same projections,” Langley said. “If we were able to break even or eke out a little better than 2019, we’d have called it a big year. The reality is, if you look at how things have changed in quick order from January 11 to March 7 in the U.S., on the (Revenue Per Available Room), January started out at -1%. It climbed up through February, and in March, it’s just cratered.”
Trying to capture as many tourism dollars as possible is the goal but “we know that pricing is one of the few weapons we have in our quiver to induce more people to come visit. During a time like this, economic incentives don’t always work, but it is an opportunity to help people remember the excellence of Amelia Island visitation,” he explained.
During the tourist season, there are as many visitors on the island as there are residents, Langley said, and the number one priority is the health of those visitors, residents, and health care workers. After that, the TDC’s priorities are to work to mitigate the loss of tourism revenue, provide information, protect the Amelia Island brand, and prepare for the recovery, “which we start today.”
All trips by TDC staff to trade shows have been canceled, as has all advertising across print, digital, email, radio, and social media.
The TDC has saved money for a rainy day and will use those funds to help the industry during this crisis, Langley said.
“We began AITDC 13 years ago, and one of our primary goals was to build reserves up to help in this kind of situation,” he stated. “We’ve done that. Currently the Convention and Visitors Bureau has reserves of over $1.4 million and the bed tax has generated over $5 million in reserves. At the appropriate time, we are ready to support the industry, move forward in our marketing, and speed the recovery. We are now working on plans to offer you cooperative opportunities, ways to stabilize your business, and continue to support us at the state and local level.”
It took the hospitality industry three years to recover from the economic fallout from 9/11 and five years to recover from the recession of 2008, Langley said, and neither of those events had as much effect as the coronavirus pandemic.
“We came through the 9/11 attacks (and) we came through the recession. We’ve had three hurricanes since I’ve been here. We’ve had wildfires,” he said. “We have strong relationships in the hospitality industry and we need to speak with one voice and move forward with a unified approach. Our plan for recovery is to increase messaging to re-engage repeat visitors, offer incentives for meeting and convention planners, and re-engage long (distance) target markets. We’re on the ropes, but hopefully we will recover quickly.”