The hospitality industry got some much-needed good news Wednesday when the Golden Isles took the No. 1 spot in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Islands in the Continental U.S.
“This award is so meaningful in the travel industry and to achieve this No. 1 ranking is an accomplishment we can all be very proud of,” said Scott McQuade, president and CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The travel magazine’s 6.7 million readers rated the Isles’ four barrier islands — Jekyll, St. Simons, Little St. Simons and Sea islands — the best in the contiguous states, beating out nearby Hilton Head and Amelia Island among 15 others.
In particular, the magazine made note of the local and migratory sea and avian life, beaches, restaurants, golf courses, resorts and historic areas.
“We take great pride in sharing the beauty, genuine hospitality and lure of the Golden Isles with those looking for a unique and authentic vacation destination,” McQuade said. “We hope the announcement of this major international award brings a boost of interest to the area, and we are always excited to welcome new visitors to this special place.”
To see the full list, visit travelandleisure.com/worlds-best/islands-in-us.
In a press release, the CVB noted the good news was particularly welcome in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“In comparison to years past, the summer is proving to be extremely difficult for hoteliers, restaurants, bars, event venues and providers,” McQuade said. “The largest challenge is keeping up with customer expectations and also keeping operations functional during a very fluid pandemic.”
The week of the Fourth of July holiday — typically one of the biggest moneymakers for local businesses — lagged behind previous years.
“Although many of the islands’ hotels were sold out, there were still rooms available coming into the weekend and the highway hotels are not seeing the same amount of occupancy or traffic generation this year,” McQuade said.
As with Memorial Day, he noted a strong uptick in beachgoers from within Glynn County and nearby counties, leading to congested traffic and parking.
Looking at the effects of the outbreak on the industry, McQuade said some short and longterm impacts are already evident.
High on the list is stress among hospitality workers and business owners who got into the business to serve and are finding it hard to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The industry finds it challenging to not be able to provide the same standards as normal because operations are in reduced capacity and now many on the frontlines of the industry are also at the frontlines of safety,” McQuade said.
Long-term, he said the hospitality industry is going to have to adapt to new health and safety standards like social distancing, caps on attendance, mask-wearing and regular hand-washing.
“For those businesses that weren’t fully established or solely serve certain sectors such as the group, event or wedding markets will see the greatest challenges,” McQuade said. “We are also seeing nationally that retail habits have changed as a result of the pandemic which is threatening several chain stores and malls across the country.”
Whether that adaptation is successful will depend on the industry, McQuade said.
“The more we can adapt to our short-term reality the better it will be for our long-term success,” McQuade said.