By Laurie Paolicelli
There’s no question that the tourism and hospitality industry is being shattered by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Retail, restaurants, food service, and hotel accommodations, as well – nothing is being spared.
In Chapel Hill and Orange County, widespread job cuts and losses are mounting weekly. Retailers, bookstores, and specialty food marts are telling shoppers to go online. Restaurants have closed completely and converted to delivery and takeout. Hotel guests canceled as communities near and far announced closures. .
“Furloughing my wait staff and bartenders, cooks, hostesses, and crew was like saying goodbye to my family,” said Anthony Carey, General Manager of the Siena Hotel. “It is soul crushing to watch somebody sitting across from you, mentally reviewing their life and wondering out loud about their ability to keep their home, car, and plans in place for their children’s future.”
The Face of the Hospitality Industry
Stephanie Bailey, a 24-year-old front desk clerk at the Residence Inn Chapel Hill, really misses her financial independence and the community she had at the hotel.
“I’m one of the lucky ones because my parents live in Chapel Hill and I was able to move in and get the support I needed. But I won’t be able to pay my bills and I have no idea what to do with myself when I wake up. I miss the routine, I miss the people, and I miss seeing Chapel Hill so full of energy and music and life. I am grateful that my employer thinks I might be able to come back in September.”
Orange County’s tourism and hospitality industry employs nearly 2,000 people at every wage level and scale. Latest reports show this industry generates $208 million in our county.
“We will see a devastating loss of jobs, taxes and revenues in Orange County’s tourism industry,” said Laurie Paolicelli, director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.
Paolicelli said there have been mass furloughs and layoffs across the industry. Many executives have taken pay cuts. Some hotels have closed temporarily. Others are staying open with a skeleton staff.
Paolicelli said that the Visitors Bureau will help lead a tourism recovery plan.
American travelers increasingly say they will be avoiding crowds—including conferences/conventions—destinations hardest hit by coronavirus, and destinations slow to put social distancing measures in place.
Also on a continual rise: the number agreeing they will take a staycation this summer (55.2%, up from 41.3% one month ago), and the number of younger travelers who say they will take more road trips to avoid airline travel (49.4% from 43.4% one month ago).
“Our community appeals to mid-atlantic audiences looking for smaller towns/rural areas with greenspace, cafes, and plenty of outdoor opportunities to hang with friends and family.”
The Hope of Hospitality Workers
“I chose this profession and if I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing,” says local bartender, Kathy Schulties. I LOVE working with people, helping them feel good, interacting with customers, laughing, and feeling a sense of community. Our guests come from near and far to see other people, interact with a different energy and feel good knowing that the world is helping each other in big and small ways.
“People in the hospitality industry will tell you they feel like they are with family, it’s real teamwork, and many of us find the family we never felt we had in this industry.
“I can’t wait to get back to work.”
The Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau said that although the community does not encourage visitation now, they believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for places like Orange County. “Visitors will want to travel by car for awhile, see family and friends, reconnect with educators and affinity groups.”
“We know one day we will see all those people back, laughing, cheering, and sustaining 2,000 jobs and the heart and hospitality of our communities,” said Anthony Carey.
“Everyone agrees that it will take a strong rebound plan but this is Chapel Hill, after all, and we know something about rebounding.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.