MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The coronavirus pandemic is devastating Florida’s tourism industry and few places have been hit harder than the Florida Keys.
At their 10 room Key Largo hotel, Mike and Carol Shipley were finally recovering from the economic wrath of Hurricane Irma. This season’s bookings were strong, but then came a flood of ‘COVID cancellations,” leading to $80 thousand dollars in lost bookings so far.
“It was like a light switch,” said Mike Shipley. “It was like somebody who just turned off the faucet and you go, wow.”
With Police checkpoints keeping tourists out, every marina and dive shop, every Key Lime kitchen, every hotel, are all feeling the pain.
The iconic Mallory Square in Key West is typically bustling with tourists, it is where people gather for nightly sunset celebrations but it is now empty, shut down, an uneasy silence in a county where nearly half of all jobs are tied to tourism.
Hotel occupancy in the Keys is just 7%, compared to 92% this time last year. Tourism officials say thousands of hospitality workers are now two weeks without a paycheck.
The Florida Keys usually worry about hurricanes, not something like this.
“Hurricanes have a finite beginning and end,” said Tourism Director Stacey Mitchell. “I’ve lived here for 37 years and business owners are my friends. They’re scared.”
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For now, the Shipley’s remain committed to their staff of 5 employees even in the face of a challenge like COVID-19. “You know, 20 years and we’ve done so well. And then, you know, then this,” said Carol Shipley. “But I’m an optimistic person. And I truly believe that we’re gonna be okay, but it’s scary.”