During a recent webinar hosted by the Hauppauge Industrial Association of Long Island (HIA-LI) entitled “How Will Tourism and Travel Change in the New Norm”, panelists from a cross-section of local government agencies and tourism enterprises weighed in on the effects and future prospects of tourism on Long Island. Moderated by Terri Alessi-Micell, the President of HIA-LI, the consensus was unanimously positive that the region has come through the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic “Long Island Strong” with encouraging indications that tourism will incrementally rise.
Tourism accounts for roughly $6.1 billion in total revenues annually for Long Island and approximately 100,000 local jobs. As a result of the pandemic, hotels, restaurants, event and attraction venues were severely hurt, and with the reopening of business beginning for Long Island in July, all panelists agreed that the common goal is to get business back to normal as quickly and as safely as possible.
Kristen Jarnagin, CEO of Discover Long Island shared that their advertising efforts for Long Island tourism changed overnight. As the pandemic hit Long Island and the nation moved into quarantine, Discover Long Island implemented their “Hold Fast” effort and got the word out to ‘stay put.’ They froze advertising for the first time and stepped into action helping the community. Their efforts moved from promoting tourism to delivering masks to hotels for their employees and encouraging Long Islanders to be safe.
Luckily for Long Island, it is home to local area airport MacArthur Airport, which, because of its small size makes it quite attractive to travelers who had and continue to have great concerns about large airports and their considerable crowds. The airport stayed open throughout the entire crisis as an essential business, implementing strict safety guidelines. In fact, according to Shelley LaRose-Arken, Commissioner, Long Island MacArthur Airport, MacArthur was the first airport in the world to install and activate new systems to continuously sanitize air and surfaces in the airport’s facility which, of course includes the gates,TSA and baggage areas and terminals. This system kills 99% of air and surface pathogens. Cleansing efforts were also ramped up with special cleansing agents used on doors and in restrooms as well as signage for mandatory face coverings.
Located 60 miles from Manhattan, MacArthur Airport, home to three carriers - Frontier, Southwest and American - had 1.6 million travelers pass through the airport annually. However, on March 13, 2020, things changed dramatically with a drastic reduction in flights. During that difficult time, Ms La Rose-Larkin reported that what was most encouraging was how people all cooperated and followed the rules. Long Island was fortunate in that MacArthur received free masks from the F.A.A. and free hand sanitizers from New York State and generously passed them onto passengers. Happily, no covid-related cases of employees have resulted since April.
Ms LaRose-Larkin contends that smaller airports like MacArther are recovering quicker than their larger counterparts because of travelers’ comfort with their more intimate setting. At present, leisure air travel has come back strong in June/July with business 70% back to normal.
The participating webinar attendees were curious about the “view” from inside the aircraft in terms of safety measures to increase sanitary conditions. Ms. La Rose-Larkin provided a bit of insight and shared that each airline is taking extra precautions to ensure greater cleanliness and safety and added health screening questions upon check in, Each carrier has their own individual rules as far as their specific protocols with Southwest, for example, keeping the middle seat open through September and Frontier is conducting temperature checks.
Some helpful tips were offered by Ms. La Rose-Larkin for travelers going through MacArthur or any airport for that matter. It’s wise to bring your own food since the concessions are limited due to lower staffing; carry small hand sanitizers and wipes; touch as few surfaces as possible; and always wear a face covering.
As Long Island moved beyond the quarantine with the reopening of businesses, and is now currently in Phase Four, residents and visitors are now able to visit beaches, parks, and restaurants, while following mandatory safety rules which include wearing masks. Discover Long Island is leading the way to boost safe tourism with the launch of their new initiative, “Travel Confidently.” This includes their BeSafe Pledge for Long Island businesses. According to Ms. Jarnagin, “Businesses take a pledge to make the commitment to keep Long Island safe and healthy in an effort to flatten the curve and minimize the spread of Covid-19. In return, small businesses have access to free signage that lets patrons know they practice safety.” High-resolution printable signage is available on their website at www.discoverlongisland.com, along with more information about the state of safety regarding travel.
Ms. Jarnagin was also very encouraged by recent news she received that hotels in Montauk and Southampton are quite busy. She attributed the bump in business to the fact that people have embraced a virtual lifestyle whereby it is now possible to work from anywhere.
However this is after four months of challenging times. Because hotels were deemed an essential business, it did put an added burden on these businesses to stay open, pay their staff and of course implement new safety protocols. For Long Island nonessential businesses like movie theaters and entertainment venues such as museums, many have suffered greatly.
One of Long Island’s most well-known and best-loved small businesses is The Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. A major tourist attraction for locals and visitors alike, the Aquarium is one part of a larger resort destination that includes the Hyatt Place Long Island, Atlantis Banquets and Events, Treasure Cove Resort Marina, Long Island Canoe Kayak Rentals and The Preston House & Hotel. Executive Director, Bryan DeLuca shared how the pandemic negatively impacted the company’s business across the board and the ways in which they are working to get back on track.
While many other businesses were able to just shut down, the Long Island Aquarium still had to keep their staff on hand in order to take care of the sea life that resides there. Additionally, even after re-opening began, it was a difficult proposition with the mandated 25% capacity allowance during the early phases of reopening. The pandemic also resulted in the cancellation of events such as weddings for their catering division and in turn snowballed with room block cancellations, further hurting business.
The positive news is as Long Island entered Phase 4 of reopening, many people began opting to stay local. On an uplifting note, the company's marina business is through the roof and the guided tours offered are sold out. With people being more mobile with work, he is also currently seeing midweek occupancy selling out for their hotel business.
The Aquarium has adjusted to safety requirements and the current goal is to boost customer confidence that visiting their venue and the 1000+ species it houses is a safe experience to enjoy.
In September of 2019, it was reported that tourism accounted for in excess of $6 billion annually and more than $740 million in state and local tax revenues. The pandemic has clearly had its impact as this revenue, which is currently down by 50% from last year, according to Ms. Jarnagin of Discover Long Island.
All panelists agreed that the goal right now is to keep tax and vacation dollars local. Ms. Jarnagin expressed that the hope is for Long Island vacationing to extend into the Fall and Winter with nearby visitors from not only NYC’s outer boroughs, but also from geographically close states like New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
In closing, everyone on the panel was remarkably optimistic and are looking towards 2021 with great hope. Ms. Jarnagin put it quite well, “ We used to talk in terms of pre and post Covid, but now we need to look at things in terms of pre and post vaccine.”
Clearly, Long Island businesses have had to make a great many adjustments to the way they conduct business and so too have locals and visitors in this new normal. But, the consensus was unanimous on this webinar that we are Long Island strong and will prevail.
Till next time,