Despite COVID-19, Pensacola Tourism Officials Optimistic About 2020
Amid concerns about the coronavirus and its future in Florida, tourism officials remain optimistic about the upcoming tourist season.
There are no plans to cancel any events at Pensacola Beach, including the popular Bands on the Beach outdoor concert series, which kicks off April 7. As part of the local caution, Visit Pensacola’s Nicole Stacey says they’re in touch with all local hospitals and agencies on pretty much a daily basis.
“We’re just working with our stakeholders and our industry leaders – Visit Florida, U.S. Travel,” said Stacey. “And we’re obviously working with our local government – [Emergency Operations Center and] the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County to make sure that messaging stays consistent. Making sure that we stay in contact with each other is one of our top priorities.”
An added concern, she says, is that the unpredictable virus is rearing its head just as college students begin coming to Florida for their annual spring break over the next several days and weeks.
“The destination is open; our businesses are open, and we encourage those who are within our drive markets to drive down and experience spring break at Pensacola,” said Stacey. “We also know this is going to be a very personal decision, and we know that people are going to take a look at everything that’s being said to make those decisions.”
“We have the CDC and the Florida Department of Health posters in the visitors’ center; we have everything posted and have that information available to them and sending it out to our membership as well,” said Alison Westmoreland, president of the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce.
She participated via phone in a joint meeting on Tuesday, with Escambia County Emergency Management and local Florida Department of Health officials. The meeting was closed to the media.
“They mainly talked about all the recommendations on best methods of protection to avoid being exposed; and going over all of those techniques to try to prevent it from spreading,” said Westmoreland.
One of the concerns during spring break – from South Padre Island, Texas to Key West – is the number of spring breakers crowding onto beaches and businesses. At Pensacola Beach, Westmoreland says as far as how COVID-19 may affect beach businesses, stay tuned.
“I think right now it might be too early to tell, but the last week it’s gotten a lot more serious as far as the reports we’ve been getting," Westmoreland said. “I think everyone is just trying to follow what the national standards are to try to keep everyone safe.”
“Wash your hands; stay home if you’re sick and cover your coughs and sneezes. Those general precautions that people are sharing, we’re sharing them as well,” said Visit Pensacola’s Nicole Stacey.
Stacey says they’re still expecting a strong spring break and tourism season.
Pensacola has long been considered a “drive-to” destination -- somewhere people can go on roughly a tank of gas. That appears to be an advantage over having to be cooped up in an aircraft or ship in close quarters. To that end, Visit Pensacola is shifting marketing dollars toward “drive markets.”
Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline has been activated. By law, businesses may not drastically increase prices on essential items during a declared state of emergency, which was announced on Monday.
“We will not tolerate businesses or individuals that are going to hike up prices, to take advantage of a dire situation when families are trying to protect themselves,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody.
The essential items covered include hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, commercial cleaning supplies and protective face masks. Businesses caught gouging face up to a $1,000 fine. To report price-gouging, call the hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.