Amelia Island’s economy, which is heavily dependent on the hospitality industry, is getting whacked as the Coronavirus has businesses and tourists canceling plans to visit while others are contemplating doing the same.
At least two large organizations have already cancelled or postponed plans for upcoming meetings here including AT&T opting out at the Omni Plantation Resort and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the Residence Inn on Sadler Road. More are expected to do so say folks in the tourism and travel business who know about such things.
Local Omni Marketing Manager Lindsey Nickel de la O wouldn’t comment on any of the specific company’s plans to cancel Omni events but Omni employees, who requested anonymity, and local tourist ventures that were booked by the AT&T group, confirmed that the telecoms giant has cancelled its planned Amelia Island stay. One local said the cancellation by AT&T cost his business $10,000 in AT&T bookings.
Both visiting groups would have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy with hotel fees, group bookings at area restaurants and bars, local cruise boats, fishing charters, golf courses, retail store sales, and more.
I’ve also heard that the Orlando Omni, which has been hit particularly hard by cancellations, is temporarily transferring employees to its Amelia Island property rather than lay them off.
Ms. Nickel de la O said her facility is experiencing an increase in “transient business” particularly from areas within relatively short drives of Amelia Island. She specifically mentioned Atlanta and Orlando and said the company has shifted advertising funds to attract people from those areas.
Amelia Island Ritz Carlton spokesman Joe Murphy wouldn’t identify any specific organizations that have cancelled plans to meet at the luxurious south end resort but admitted that there have been some. “Groups are reassessing their plans and are negotiating about rescheduling,” he said. Like the Omni, he added that there is a bright side saying: “Individual spring break and Easter reservations are strong.”
Another local hotelier said that bus tour business is also dropping off.
In 2018 visitors to Amelia Island had a total economic impact of $678 million, a six percent increase over 2017 according to the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council web site. It says that close to 27 percent of the island’s visitors arrive by air.
What the island’s bottom line will look like after the virus crisis is over is anybody’s guess. But while the travel industry has been hard hit, it is taking dramatic steps to attract customers.
To combat the most dramatic drop in passenger traffic since 9/11 airlines are offering heavily discounted fares — for example, according to TV reports a round trip ticket from NY to New Orleans can be had for under $100 and a one-way ticket from New York to Chicago for $35. United Airlines reported that net bookings within the U.S. have fallen 70 percent and 100 percent to Asia and Europe. Gas prices continue to fall as the energy sector struggles with oil sinking to around $35 a barrel, an unsustainable price for U.S. shale oil producers. Cruise lines profits are sinking as future passengers abandon ship and hotel rooms are sitting empty. They all are offering huge discounts to fill empty cabins and rooms.
Amelia Island sees limited traffic from cruise lines with the exception of the American Cruise Line that drops passengers off here on occasion and even that may dry up as the cruise ship industry is experiencing its worst PR nightmare since the Titanic. The outbreak has made the basic fundamentals of the cruise business medically inadvisable to the point that the State Department has issued warnings to U.S. travelers—chief among them the elderly—to stop taking cruise ships until the threat has passed. Viking Cruises announced Thursday, March 12, that it has cancelled all of its cruises until May 1 while Princess Cruises announced it will suspend cruises for 60-days.
Cruise ship executives are meeting with top Trump administration officials to talk about what steps could be taken to steady their bottom lines. They’ve also sought to allay concerns by stressing the steps they’re taking to avoid becoming floating petri dishes.
Local area events are also seeing a rash of cancellations due to the virus. The Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival announced the cancellation of the Itzhak Perlman performance scheduled for March 19. The Fernandina Beach Friends of the Library (FOL) and The Lakeside at Amelia Island have postponed Stories on Stage, originally scheduled for Sunday, March 22, 2020. The Nassau County Library System announced that a reception for the “Native American Art” exhibit scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, March 14, will be postponed while its free Ukulele Concert scheduled for March 16 at the Fernandina Public Library has been cancelled. The Democratic Club of Amelia Island cancelled its March 24, 2020 dinner where Congressional candidate Donna Deegan was to speak.
Tourism Director Gil Langley attended a meeting at the Florida Department of Health in Fernandina Beach and said he is “very concerned” about the virus’s potential harm to the local economy. “We could have a 5-7 percent economic hit here,” he told me via phone this week. He said a variety of issues contribute to those numbers including employees of feeder industries dependent on tourism such as a HVAC company that might do work at a hotel or a construction crew involved in building staging. He also said restaurants could be impacted trying to find replacement servers or kitchen help for their sick counterparts.
According to the Wednesday, March 11 Wall Street Journal, all restaurants will be seeing a downturn saying: “Given the quick spread of the disease, it seems likely that fewer U.S. customers will be traveling to restaurants in the days ahead, whether on their way to work or on vacation. Third-party delivery services might increase but more delivery sales won’t make up for the entire shortfall.” It went on to add that given the high fixed costs and low profit margins of the industry, “even small declines in sales could mean a major hit to profits.”
Mr. Langley was scheduled to be in Berlin, Germany last week for one of the industry’s largest travel and trade fair, but it was cancelled because of the virus.
Like the local hotels Langley said the Tourist Development Council is making efforts to refocus its efforts on the “drive market” to attract people in cities within driving distance of Amelia Island, such as Atlanta and Orlando. It’s an effort that his organization has long pursued but as companies restrict non-essential travel for its workers it will be increasingly important to reach people who can get to the beach by car, rather than plane, in a few hours he explained.
Despite the fact that the Omni and Ritz would not discuss cancellations event websites indicated that organizers with upcoming events said they are planning for the worst. For example, the following organizations with events scheduled here say they are carefully monitoring the situation but have not yet made a decision:
The Employer Associations of America, which is scheduled for an April 6-8 conference at the Omni said: “This unprecedented situation is changing daily, so we remain watchful but also focused on delivering what is an important event. We will keep you informed as we get closer to the conference,” it said to its members.
The National Ski Areas Association scheduled for a May 2-4 Omni event said it “will continue to look to the CDC and World Health Organization for updates. In the event of a cancellation, it says it will work with the resort to ensure “the best possible outcome for our attendees.”
Mayo Clinic, which has scheduled an April 2-4 conference at the Ritz said, “Mayo Clinic is closely monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19). At this time there have been no changes to planned live courses and conferences held in the United States.”
So far in Nassau County only one person, a 68-year-old man has tested positive for the virus — which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic earlier this week — and will be in isolation for the next 14 days, according to local health department officials. Apparently the man recently traveled internationally and that the coronavirus was not “community spread.”
Presidential Political Chatter: I’ve watched almost all the Democrat presidential debates, listened to and watched interviews with the candidates on TV and radio, and read interviews in newspapers and magazines, but have yet to hear a candidate being asked by a reporter to answer any of the following questions: “Where do you see the country in four years or eight years (assuming you win two terms)?”, “Does multi-culturalism have a downside?”, or “Does religion still hold a place in America?”. Why not?
Looking Back Down The Road: 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of On the Road author Jack Kerouac. Tampa Plant High School classmate and American Spectator writer, Larry Thornberry, reminded me a few weeks ago that Kerouac died in the Tampa Bay area in 1969. He added that while living there in the mid and late sixties Kerouac frequented a mostly-student bar near the University of South Florida (USF) that Larry often called in on but says he never ran into Kerouac. I recall a fellow reporter at the Tampa Tribune in the late 1960s telling me he had run into Kerouac at a pub near USF but didn’t give it much thought at the time. I wish I had as I would have liked to say I met him.
In his note to me Larry attached an American Spectator article by staffer Paul Kengor titled “Remembering Jack Kerouac: Novelist, Beat, Conservative, Catholic” and subtitled “His death, fifty years ago, is one 2019 forgot about.” In it Kengor refers to “Jack Kerouac, RIP,” a 1970 tribute by John Coyne reprinted from National Review explaining Kerouac — one that will shock most leftists as they still today think that Kerouac is one of theirs — mostly because they’ve never read him and know little about him.
In the National Review excerpt as an example, Coyne furnished a letter he received from Kerouac the day he died. “Dear Coyne,” Kerouac wrote, “This brochure reads like a complaint from Al Capone.” He was referring to a diatribe expressed in a certain pamphlet issued by the New Left. “He loathed them,” Coyne wrote of Kerouac’s take on this new brand of ’60s leftists. “They were punks who had their minds made up about the world before they knew anything, and they had expropriated the legend. But their claim was not legitimate. They hadn’t earned it, Jack believed, and they never would. For their hatreds were not his, and his love for America will forever lie far outside their experiences.”
“Kerouac appreciated what America had allowed him to do — that is, the America of freedom, which meant free markets, property rights, individualism, all polar opposites of the socialist-collectivist state hailed by his New Left appropriators. In “ After Me, The Deluge,” an article that Kerouac in 1969 had put together for syndication in newspapers, and which unwittingly became a last statement published after his unexpected death, he said that “if it hadn’t been for Western-style capitalism,” which enabled “free economic byplay, movement north, south, east, and west, haggling, pricing, and the political balance of power carved into the U.S. Constitution,” he “wouldn’t have been able or allowed to hitchhike half broke thru 47 states of this Union and see the scene with my own eyes, unmolested.”
His article went on adding: “Truer words were never spoken. Just as it boggles the mind to today observe Millennials stump for “democratic socialism” on laptops and iPhones at the corner Starbucks, Kerouac was amazed by the sight of ’60s communists vilifying the very system that allowed them the unprecedented freedoms they reveled in. It’s a surreal spectacle that never seems to hit those who pride themselves in their intellectual superiority.”
In a 1974 The Alternative article by Allen Crawford Kerouac lamented that he had been co-opted by a generation of leftists who never understood him and with whom he felt no kinship. Crawford stated emphatically: “Kerouac was, politically and … temperamentally, a conservative.” And he was decidedly and devoutly Catholic. “I’m not a Beatnik, I’m a Catholic,” said Kerouac.
Fifty years after his death Jack Kerouac gives us a lot to think about as we enter a new decade.
A Dangerous Dim Democrat Dunce: Democrat Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib recently wore a shirt with a map of the Middle East that did not include Israel on it. It had been deliberately erased from the map. How did this vicious, hateful, anti-Semitic cretin get voted a member of the U.S. Congress? Good grief. She represents Michigan’s 13th congressional district that includes the western half of Detroit, along with several of its western suburbs and much of the Downriver area. I hope the voters there are paying attention as she’s doing nothing but harm to her constituents and our country. This November it’s time to toss her out on her hateful butt.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: There are two St. Patrick’s Day dinners on tap at local veterans organizations with the public invited, with the first one tomorrow, Saturday, March 14 from 4-7 p.m. at American Legion Post 54, at 626 North 3rd Street. For a $12 donation folks will be treated to corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, a roll and dessert. The Chris Tyler band will perform following the meal. The VFW Post 4351 under Shave Bridge will host its corned beef and cabbage dinner Sunday, March 15th at 2 p.m. for a $12 donation. Dinner includes corned beef and cabbage with carrots and potatoes, soda and rye bread and whiskey cake. Tickets are on sale now. For more information call ‘em at (904) 432-879. The Sandbar & Kitchen will conduct a St.Patrick Day “Sip me I’m Irish” whisky event beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 18. For $29.95 per person plus tax and gratuity, diners will be served the following: Jameson Cold Brew, with smoked chicken crisp-dark roast creme fraiche; Redbreast Lustau, with fig salad-citrus, chevre, tarragon; Jameson Coopers Croze, with friend pork skin-chimichurri, cilantro; Green Spot with papaya yogurt-toasted barley, mint; Jameson Black Barrel, with bacon-wrapped date, blue cheese, vanilla; Powers Gold Label with duck rillettes, cinnamon pear jam, picked jalapeno; Yellow Spot with toffee flan, orange zest. For reservations call 904/310-3648.