Labor Day brought good tidings to many businesses that benefit from tourism, but restrictions placed on gatherings to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic will likely hurt event venues and conference centers in the coming months.
“Business for September is actually looking good and we see much greater deficits in October and November due to the scaled-down event schedule,” said Scott McQuade, president and CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Not having spectators at (the) RSM (Classic) will have a major impact to fall business and there is still an unknown of the potential impact of the Georgia-Florida weekend.”
While not quite as strong as last year, the Labor Day weekend filled plenty of rooms for the local lodging industry. Lots of guests at hotels, motels and rentals typically translates into good business of all varieties.
Not all in the lodging industry shared in a healthy harvest. A noticeable trend of hotels along Interstate 95 seeing fewer visitors than past years persisted through the Labor Day weekend, McQuade said.
Another continuing trend, one more positive, is the greater percentage of local visitors. Most of the reduction in long-range travelers is at least partially offset by more “day-trippers” coming from surrounding counties.
The ongoing coronavirus epidemic necessitates limited capacity at lodging establishments, McQuade said, but most are adapting well.
“Things seem to be running very smoothly with visitors and businesses adapting to the COVID-19 environment,” McQuade said. “Most businesses have now adapted to what is the new normal as far as implementing safety procedures while maintaining business levels.”
Despite the factors working against tourism, he noted the Golden Isles has consistently outperformed the travel industry at large.
“We are fortunate to have visitors still streaming in,” McQuade said.
When it comes to travel and gatherings, COVID-19 has become an ever-present consideration. Nineteen new cases were reported in Glynn County Friday, bringing the total since March to 3,288 as of 3 p.m.
A total of 85 people have died with the virus in Glynn County, along with seven in McIntosh and seven in Camden counties.
Although still higher than health officials would like, daily COVID-19 diagnoses have leveled off in the Golden Isles. Labor Day may change that, however, as surges in new cases were seen to occur roughly three to five weeks after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays.
“Even though our numbers are generally improving, we still have significant ongoing community transmission of COVID-19, so I’m hopeful that people took appropriate precautions over the Labor Day weekend,” said Coastal Health District Director Lawton Davis.
Judith Henson, nurse and vice president of patient care services for Southeast Georgia Health System, hoped somewhat lighter crowds on the beach might translate to fewer COVID-19 cases than expected.
“Traditionally, people get together with family and friends on Labor Day, although the health system encouraged the public to keep to small crowds, 10 people or less. This, along with the reopening of schools and school events, is a daily reminder for us to stay vigilant in wearing masks in public settings, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene,” Henson said. “We plan for the worst but hope for the best.”
Residents should continue to wear masks, keep a six-foot distance from others, regularly wash their hands and stay home if they feel sick.
The SGHS also encourages all residents to get a flu vaccination to prevent as much overlap between COVID-19 and flu season as possible. Early October would be the ideal time to get the shot, health department officials say, but anytime is better than never.