The coronavirus pandemic has canceled a lot of things, but your summer vacation doesn’t have to be one of them.
On May 15, Palm Beach County, Florida, allowed hotels to begin accepting leisure guests.
In fact, more than 20 rooms were booked the weekend of May 15-17, said Bernardo Neto, The Ben’s general manager.
Where did these travelers come from? “Without a doubt, it’s been Palm Beach County residents,” Neto said.
Guests staying at the 208-room hotel not only hailed from West Palm Beach but from Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens, too, Neto said.
The Ben’s reservation roster is a small but encouraging sign for tourism, Florida’s No. 1 economic engine and Palm Beach County’s No. 2 industry, after agriculture.
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The coronavirus pandemic has cost the county’s tourism industry $20 million in revenue so far this year, thanks to the sudden halt in travel this spring.
The downturn has badly affected employment, with tourism-related jobs accounting for about 60,000 positions in Palm Beach County.
Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council, estimates unemployment across the county’s tourism industry will be about 30% to 40%.
The county’s decision to reopen hotels for leisure guests is a crucial first step back for the industry, experts say.
The move came on the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida would move into its “full Phase One” plan to reopen the state. That plan relaxed many of the restrictions that had been put in place to help slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Hoteliers said they are going to extraordinary measures to make guests feel comfortable about venturing out of their homes.
Tourism officials have stressed they plan to focus efforts on encouraging residents to take “staycations” by visiting nearby hotels and attractions.
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Some Palm Beach County residents, like those who made reservations at The Ben, did not need prompting to get out of the house.
But those going out and about in the coming days and weeks will encounter new rules designed to minimize the spread of the virus and make guests feel safe.
These changes include the heavy use of technology, social distancing in public spaces, and masks and gloves worn by hotel personnel.
Guests also will notice the increased use of outdoor spaces.
The Ben, a Marriott Autograph Hotel along the Intracoastal Waterway, opened in February with crowds flocking to the rooftop bar and restaurant’s soaring water views.
Today, The Ben’s rooftop does not allow bar seating, but the restaurant is open and welcoming. Tables, spaced and limited, are topped with signs indicated they have been cleaned.
Lounge chairs remain by the rooftop pool, but there are spaced out and fewer are available for use.
At the Hilton West Palm Beach, the hotel’s Galley restaurant has spilled out into the resort-style courtyard outside, said Derrick Steinour, director of sales and marketing
Even the cabanas are being used as private outdoor dining spots, Steinour said.
When it comes to making use of the outdoors, Crane’s Beach House Boutique Hotel and Luxury Villas in downtown Delray Beach has an edge, said general manager Cathy Balestriere.
Crane’s features open-air walkways and no interior halls. Guests can walk outside the property’s 28 suites into the fresh air.
Not only are hotels highlighting their outside spaces, they also are making dozens of changes inside to limit the spread of germs.
Hilton, which has partnered with Lysol, features a sticker seal in guest rooms certifying heightened cleaning.
At The Ben, the public restrooms feature a foot-operated door opener instead of a handle. Inside the hotel rooms, television remote controls, often a high point of germ contact, now feature a disposable clear sleeve over them.
And the mini-bars? Empty on arrival (but able to be filled upon request.)
Marriott’s Bonvoy phone app has several features that allow guests to access the hotels’ services without needing to touch surfaces or interact with staff members. The app functions as a room key; a device to order items, such as extra towels; and even a check-in tool.
Details on how hotels and other businesses tied to tourism are coping with the coronavirus is a feature on Palm Beach County’s tourism marketing arm.
This traveler information hub includes videos from hospitality partners demonstrating how they are cleaning and reconfiguring public spaces to create distance, said Jorge Pesquera, chief executive of Discover the Palm Beaches.
In addition to hotels, attractions such as Morikami Museum, Worth Avenue and Lion Country Safari will be featured.
“These virtual tours show and tell the actions people are taking, instead of writing procedures,” Pesquera said. “People can sense the level of detail going in to keep hotel rooms and public areas clean and sanitized.”
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