Governor’s order to suspend vacation rentals added blow to SWFL industries

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
An almost desolate strip on Fort Myers Beach is normally busy with traffic. But restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic in Florida have caused a noticeable lack of activity. Credit: WINK News.

The governor announced he suspended vacation rentals for the next two weeks, and City of Sanibel took it a step further by ordering hotels, motels and inns to not accept new guests and suspend reservations for 28 days. And, on Fort Myers Beach, what is normally a hard town to get to during the busy season looks more like a ghost town after recent orders from the state.

With beaches closed and a new governor’s order suspending vacation rentals, the Southwest Florida hospitality and tourism industry continues to be hurt during the effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Chris Benton is still scooping ice cream on Fort Myers Beach, but business is melting.

“This is when we make our money,” Benton said. “This is the cash cow if there ever was one for the service and hospitality industry.”

Normally, this is the time of year that businesses make it or break it through the rest of the year.

“This is what sets us up for the rest of the year, sets us up for the summer months, which are pretty fallow,” Benton said. “It’s just real hard to stay open.”

DeSantis is ordering all vacation rentals in Florida be suspended for the next two weeks. But landlords say they’ve already been losing money for weeks. Closing the beaches essentially closed business.

“It’s hard to justify keeping the place open, keeping the electricity running, paying the employees,” Benton said. “It’s hard to justify all that for such few people coming in.”

And the ripple effect is felt across the whole island.

“When stuff is canceled, no one’s coming here because there’s no one here to come here,” said. “We can stay open, but there’s no guarantee anyone’s going to come.”

Places that don’t listen to this order can lose their vacation rental license. Advertising for vacation rental bookings, specifically for the next two weeks, can also land someone with a second-degree misdemeanor.

Not included in the order are hotels, motels, inns, resorts, timeshares or long-term rentals. Visitors can finish their trips if they’re already checked in or scheduled to check-in by Saturday.

Anyone traveling for work, military, emergency, government or health is not impacted by this travel constraint.

But it is impacting those who rely on those reservations.

“It’s crazy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of scared of it, you know, freaking out,” Benton said. “But I’m just sticking it out for the people that love that ice cream.”

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