Resort Towns Ask: Will There Be Summer?


In summer resort towns across the United States, livelihoods for the year are built in the 15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It is during those 15 weeks that tourists from around the country and the world arrive to bask on the beach and gather for festivals and weddings. And it is during those three months that tour operators, hoteliers, innkeepers, restaurant employees and others earn the bulk of their income.

But this year, with Memorial Day — the kickoff for summer — approaching, there will be fewer guests to welcome and likely no sizable weddings or festivals to host. Business owners in resort areas, from Cape Cod, Mass., to Lake Chelan, Wash., say that as the start of summer approaches, they are having to face the difficult reality that little money will be made this year.

Between canceled trips and uncertainty about how willing and financially able people will be to travel once shelter-in-place rules are lifted, business owners say that even if summer travel starts late, it won’t make up for losses that have already been incurred.

Public health is essential and should be prioritized, Ms. Rishel and other business owners said, but business survival is also important. And so resort towns are grappling with the cost-benefit analysis of reopening and potentially having the virus spread versus remaining closed and potentially shuttering doors.

In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, tourists will be allowed to return and stay in hotels beginning on May 16, but life will be different. Social-distancing rules will have to be followed; businesses will limit the number of people to 50 percent of their usual capacity; sanitizing stations will be at every turn; and staff at hotels will wear masks.

Mr. Harris said about 80 percent of his revenue is made between Memorial Day and the end of September. And since the Outer Banks are less densely populated than other areas, he added, reopening was the right move and will keep people from losing their businesses.

“Since the virus isn’t going away, I’m sure that we’ll probably have cases like everyone else. But as long as we’re prepared to deal with them as best we can, we will be OK,” he said.

“I’m excited to see people, but I’m also being terrified because it’s too soon to reopen,” she said. “I don’t think the state has met all the standards they said we’d need to meet before we open. We are still seeing new cases, and the rules about how to operate just aren’t clear.”

Ms. Gutlon, as well as other innkeepers and owners in North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington state, said that they are trying to figure out the rules for guest numbers, social distancing and serving food on their properties. For example, she said, no more than 10 people can gather, but the inn typically has about 16 guests in its eight rooms, in addition to staff — so would filling rooms be breaking the rules?

“There’s so much speculation about what could be expected of us when it’s time to reopen,” she said. “That causes a lot of anxiety.”

“In the summer months all hotels are operating at close to full capacity, but I doubt that will be the case this year,” Mr. Chiu said.

“Will people want to pay hundreds of dollars to take their own sheets off their bed or to sit in their room and eat all their meals there?” asked Ms. Gutlon of the White Doe Inn in the Outer Banks. She and others said that those questions will also affect people’s willingness to travel from afar. Guests who usually book for more than just a few days have all canceled their trips this year, she said.

“We rely on foreign students with J-1 visas whose families visit Boston and then come to the Cape,” she said. “This year, we’ll hopefully see local traffic. But we’re all in a holding pattern.”

Ms. Watson has been trying to figure out another way to make money while the bed-and-breakfast that she and her husband own isn’t able to accept guests. Before the pandemic, their inn had begun serving afternoon tea to get additional revenue in the off-season. The couple is now thinking of extending the tearoom’s hours when business begins again and offering pickup service for baked goods.

“We are going to try different things to make money,” she said. “But we need to get back to business, because nothing takes the place of overnight guests.”

Memorial Day, Ms. Watson said, is the real kickoff for the summer season, and she would normally be preparing for a revolving door. Instead, she is spending her time on conference calls with other business owners and a marketing company, trying to stay on top of what’s going on and updating policies and cleaning and sanitizing procedures.

“Everybody is frustrated with where we’re at and we’re all worried about this summer, but we don’t want to see people sick,” she said. “We don’t want to see people dying.”



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