Reopening Florida means luring hesitant tourists back to spend money

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson Writer: Jackie Winchester
File photo by WINK News

As Florida goes through the phases of reopening, businesses worry about how long it might take to get visitors to return.

Officials say people may be scared to travel here, but the tourism industry is working on a plan.

Before the pandemic, visitors packed restaurants and soaked up the sunshine on beaches. Hotels that were once filled now sit empty, and local businesses that depend on tourist dollars aren’t seeing any.

“I mean, jeepers creepers, when the big hotels close, it’s tough,” said Gene Luciano, who owns a charter boat business.

“Business is off by 99.5 percent,” he said.

Still, he stays open for fishing trips, even with the Naples City Dock closed.

“I have five guys that work for me and I’ve been able to pay them a little here, a little there to keep them going, but I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to do that because I don’t believe we’re going to get enough business here in the near future.”

The fear is that tourists will be afraid to travel even after it’s safe to reopen restaurants, bars and other businesses.

“We’re hanging in there, doing the best we can,” said Brian Moss with The Dock Restaurant.

In a call with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Visit Florida introduced a four-pronged marketing plan to rebound after COVID-19. The plan is to attract close-to-home travelers first and market Florida attractions that don’t require an immense amount of human contact.

Long term, the final phase would include drawing people from around the world.

In the meantime, businesses remain hopeful.

“I think we’ll bounce back faster than people think but there’s no way to tell,” Moss said.

Visit Florida said they’ll present their full strategy to bring people back in the coming weeks. The state plans to start the marketing push as soon as the safer-at-home order is lifted.

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