CLEARWATER BEACH — Hotel general manager David Yamada said this Labor Day weekend the Grand Wyndham Resort will be near full, if not at room capacity.
The long weekend is always a big tourism week on Pinellas County beaches, but during COVID-19 no hotelier can rely on the usual tourism patterns.
“It’s up and down,” Yamada said.
Clearwater Beach may have solid hotel bookings now, but predictions of how hotels will fare come the start of fall get murky. That is why Pinellas County’s tourism bureau, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, has launched a safety campaign. The bureau hopes its message can help stabilize visitor rates and give local businesses a united front in operating safely — and in turn, get more laid-off hotel employees back to work.
The message is simple: Spread out. Mask up.
“Travelers these days want to know that where they’re going is going to have a safe environment,” said Steve Hayes, the bureau’s CEO. ”That’s how they’re making decisions about which community they’re going to.”
The nearly $2 million “Rise to Shine” campaign launched Friday at an outdoor press conference on Pier 60. Its messaging not only gives current visitors the expectations of mask use, but Hayes said it signals to potential visitors that Pinellas County and its businesses take safety precautions against the virus seriously. Right now, the bureau’s messaging is targeted at staycationers in nearby counties as well as potential travelers that can drive in from Orlando.
On Memorial Day weekend, photos and video of Clearwater Beach went viral because of how crowded the shoreline was. But recently, Pinellas County’s positivity rate has dropped to 3 percent.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was also at Friday’s press conference, said he is optimistic about the latest numbers.
“The Rise to Shine campaign will enforce what visitors and locals need to do to keep the numbers going in the right direction,” Kriseman said.
Florida added 3,198 coronavirus cases Friday, bringing the number of statewide infections since March to 640,211 cases. In Florida, 11,903 people have died from coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health.
The World Health Organization set a recommendation for a positivity rate of 5 percent or below for two weeks for a safer reopening. Nearby counties such as Polk have about an 8 percent infection rate. In Hillsborough that rate is 6 percent.
“We’re always worried there’s going to be a spike,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard. “But I think we have been so good about the mask ordinances. I think it’s going to be less of a problem than it was on Memorial Day.”
The campaign includes signs, like “Spread Out. Mask Up” posters and billboards, as well as branded materials that local businesses can get for free: face masks, hand sanitizer, no-touch door openers/button pusher key chains. In a news release, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater says the campaign is intended to “rebuild consumer confidence.”
Yamada, the Wyndham general manager, has only been able to bring back about 60 percent of his staff.
He received some of the new signs Friday and taped them to the lobby’s glass doors, where guests pass through on their way to the beach.
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