South Florida’s beaches still set to open for Labor Day as hotels lower their prices
Unlike past holidays during this pandemic, the upcoming Labor Day weekend will offer South Floridians more choices for outings.
The latest state figures show COVID-19 has eased its grip on Florida. As a result, local governments are leaning toward leaving South Florida’s beaches open, and hotels are offering deals for a pandemic staycation. Their goal is offering these amenities with the hope the public follows the rules on wearing masks and social distancing.
Here’s what you can expect over the Sept. 4-7 weekend.
Yes, so far, the beaches are scheduled to stay open for Labor Day after South Florida kept them closed over Independence Day as a precaution. But government leaders in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are closely watching the COVID statistics that track new cases, positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Over Independence Day, Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties closed their beaches, citing the possibility of community spread if crowds got too large and people stayed too close to one another.
The three counties have been coordinating their beach operations during the pandemic. “If Miami-Dade shuts, Broward will shut,” said Stacy Ritter, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have to hope Miami-Dade chooses to keep their beaches open.”
Since April, city and county officials have tried to ensure a unified approach so that virus carriers turned away from one county’s beach don’t travel to a neighboring county and jeopardize the health of others.
A Broward County spokeswoman said Friday the county intends to keep the beaches open on Labor Day. So does Fort Lauderdale.
“As of right now, the City of Fort Lauderdale has no plans to close the beach on Labor Day,” said spokesman Chaz Adams.
Although COVID-19 cases are on an apparent decline, officials have warned against parties on Labor Day. Broward County recently said that it’s “even more important” that residents remain vigilant by staying home when possible and not having large bashes, or social gatherings of more than 10 people.
But businesses still are awaiting word from the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who suggested that South Florida’s economy may soon proceed to Phase Two status. That means restaurants could offer bar-top service and most businesses could operate at higher capacities. The tri-county area’s high case count has kept Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties as the state’s only region still in Phase One.
But there has been no subsequent word about when or how the next step will be taken.
So restaurants still can’t serve alcohol at their bars, although they may serve drinks with dinner at tables.
A Phase 2 reopening would allow bars, pubs and taverns to operate at 50% seating capacity, but DeSantis closed bars across the state when coronavirus cases exploded. It’s unclear when they will be able to reopen, meaning the same restrictions could remain in effect during the holiday.
Hotel room prices
The prices should be low for people planning to stay in hotels over the holiday. “We don’t see prices rising at all,” Ritter said. “I think hotels want to get people through the doors right now.”
This summer, so-called staycation offers were in vogue in a bid to attract visitors from elsewhere around Florida as out-of-state and foreign travelers stopped traveling.
So the convention and visitors bureau served up a campaign called LauderDeals. Launched in the spring with the hotels, it included 2-for-1 attraction offers, a Dine Out Lauderdale program and other specials.
Although the campaign is expected to end Aug. 31, Ritter said it is “it is not a hard and fast deadline.”
“If the hospitality industry wants us to continue, it will continue to the end of September,” she said. “It is bringing people in.”
Joseph DeMatteo Sr., owner of Beachwalk Elite Hotels and Resorts, a new entry in Hallandale Beach, said the resort has attracted people from Palm Beach County, and he’s looking to attract New Yorkers who might wish to work remotely in South Florida for awhile.
“We’re trying to welcome people in a way to provide them a place of rejuvenation,” he said, including families.
He said no hotel is equipped to be staffed for 100% occupancy.
In the new world of COVID-19, owners have to settle for less. “It’s a world where 50% occupancy is the old 100% occupancy, 40% is the new 80%, and 30% is the old 70%.”
The resort is offering staycation visitors 30% off its best available retail rates when booking directly through the hotel.
Guests can get private beach access, fully equipped kitchens, dining room and living room and an in-unit washer and dryer. Management is also offering guests discounts at nearby restaurants and personalized staff and service support.
Another hotel, the 239-room Marriott Singer Island in Riviera Beach, is booked in the 70% to 80% range for the holiday, said Roger Amidon, the general manager. Guests are coming by car, mainly from inside the state, with an occasional Midwesterner or New Englander. The resort has direct access to the beach.
Amidon is hosting the surge of guests after having laid off 240 employees in late March. He recalled 110 and is now working with 125 to 130 people who are doing work that usually requires 270 people.
“It does make it tough on the team when we are at capacity,” he said.
People interested in staying in a hotel may have to wait until they arrive to find out how crowded their hotels will be.
Heiko Dobrikow, general manager of the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, said many visitors don’t commit to a room until the day of arrival or shortly before.
So it’s hard to tell how heavily booked hotels will be come Labor Day. But he said media reports about the virus served to discourage summer travel, particularly from Florida’s west coast.
“It was mostly weekend business,” he said of the hotel’s summertime visitors.
“The most business came within a 100-mile radius, meaning Miami and West Palm Beach for the most part,” he said.
Nonetheless, he thinks the hotels along Fort Lauderdale Beach should draw occupancies of around 70%, provided the beaches are open.
But promotions and prices are less important to travelers than their health, Ritter said.
In a May survey, Longwoods International, a worldwide travel consultancy, questioned more than 1,000 adults and found 47% of them intended to change their travel plans to driving instead of flying, visiting U.S. cities instead of international cities, or canceling trips altogether.
“It’s all about cleanliness and safety protocols,” Ritter said. “Are [travelers] going to feel secure? Overwhelmingly, those are the issues they’re talking about.”
On Thursday, home sharing giant Airbnb announced a ban on all parties effective immediately. “This party ban applies to all future bookings on Airbnb and it will remain in effect indefinitely until further notice,” the company said in its announcement.
The new policy also includes an occupancy cap of 16 guests. The company noted that 73% of Airbnb listings worldwide already banned parties in their house rules. Previously, hosts were allowed to authorize smaller parties such as birthday parties and baby showers, the company said.
On Aug. 12, the restaurant and lodging association’s Palm Beach chapter distributed 50,000 free washable, reusable cloth masks to local hospitality employees.
It was part of an association effort, launched in Miami, to provide masks to hotel and restaurant workers across the state in a joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I have hardly any kind of issue with people wearing masks,” said Dobrikow of the Riverside.
Initially, some guests turned “defensive” and resisted. But he said they relented when the hotel told them they were on private property and wearing masks was for the sake of the patrons.
“That’s when the game-changer came and it made the customers more responsible,” he said.
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