Summer tourist towns hope to recover as crowds return after COVID

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Courtesy of Mike Potenza

(BOSTON) – On Cape Cod, the only thing as sure as seafood and lighthouses is the area’s reliance on summer tourism.

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, perhaps no industry was more affected than seaside getaways. There were no vacationers for hire, there were no diners. to sit in the restaurants by the sea and there was no one to ride a roller coaster or slide. Most businesses haven’t opened at all.

Water Wizz, a water park in East Wareham, Massachusetts, has been in business for over 30 years. The park has been featured in films such as “Grown Ups” and “The Way Way Back,” but due to the pandemic its slides have completely dried up all last year. This summer, Patricia Kells hopes to make up for lost time.

“Last summer was the hottest summer I can remember since I’ve been in business,” Kells, president of Water Wizz, told ABC News. “It was the best summer ever to have a water park, and it was closed, and it was very painful to endure.”

Amusement parks, cinemas, restaurants and shopping are the backbone of many coastal economies. The survival of these businesses, some seasonal and all vulnerable to the unforeseen loss of revenue caused by the pandemic, depend on summer participation to keep their doors open.

“I’m a water park,” Kells said. “I’m not Six Flags New England, a big company. I don’t have a lobbyist. No one cared about my seedy little water park. I’m just not that tall.

With more than 59% of American adults having received at least one dose of a vaccine and with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying those vaccinated no longer need to wear masks inside or outside. the outdoors – regardless of the crowds – many of them summer businesses are feeling upbeat ahead of Memorial Day.

Reinvention has always been central to the survival of local businesses, said Rob Anderson, owner and canteen chef in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

“We are not trying to get back to normal,” he said. “We are trying to build a new normal.”

Ninety percent of Americans plan to travel to the United States this summer, according to HomeToGo, a vacation rental search engine. Many summer tourist towns, not just those on Cape Cod, hope that vacationing families choose their businesses to patronize.

Steve Nicoletti, owner and chef of Cafe Beach Club, a mom and pop restaurant in Ocean City, New Jersey, is optimistic about the summer, given the crowds he sees entering his restaurant. However, he is also concerned that staff can keep up with demand.

“Ocean City is about to have one of its best years,” he said. “They say rentals are at an all time high, but one of the big issues that I think is really going to hurt a lot of people, especially newcomers to business, is that they don’t have of employees. ”

As the demand for housing in these coastal areas has exploded, some businesses are experiencing labor shortages.

“Families can no longer afford to live here, frankly, on Cape Cod,” said Mike Potenza, director of marketing and public relations for The Lobster Pot in Provincetown, Massachusetts. “You can’t earn enough to live on, so they move out, so there are no kids to do the job.”

For the family restaurant in business since 1979, securing a seasonal workforce has only become more difficult with the pandemic. “There is the uncertainty of the workforce, the uncertainty of the mandates and the rules they dictate because they change all the time,” said Potenza.

Small businesses are doing their best to meet the standards of local and state COVID-19 protocols. While many businesses have appreciated receiving financial assistance from the government through Small Business Administration loans and the Paycheck Protection Program, for some the advice given by state officials has proven to be true. frustrating, because of their nature to change with limited notice.

“As you face these growing pains and find your way on top of everything that’s going on COVID, it was just a lot, it was really tough,” Josh Flanders, CEO of Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery in East Falmouth, Massachusetts, said last year.

The Flanders East Falmouth brewery, the company’s second, opened a few months before the start of the pandemic. The brewery closed in March 2020, then reopened in June 2020. Receiving little notice from the state before reopening last summer “was kind of a nightmare,” Flanders said. The limited time to recruit staff felt like “going from zero to 100 very quickly”.

As the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center reopens, its executive director, Jamie Hook, hopes viewers feel nostalgic for the past, while still having confidence in life after the pandemic.

“I almost liken it to civic duty, to experience something collectively with strangers,” Hook told ABC News. “I think this experience is really important in our country as we move forward.”

However, not all vacation spots were cut off last season by COVID.

At the start of the pandemic, those who could afford to leave cities like New York and Boston sought refuge in less populated areas like the Hamptons and Cape Cod. Home sales in coastal areas like the Hamptons continue to grow and are up 89% from a year ago, according to Corcoran Realty.

Lisa Field, owner of Long Island’s Sag Harbor Variety Store, said the New York migration last year was something they had never seen before.

“We are used to the season being July and August and seeing the population explode. It kind of took us by surprise, but we were able to come to terms with it, ”she said.

However, for the most part, tourist destinations – even some of the country’s most famous – appreciate welcoming crowds.

In Coney Island, Brooklyn, one of the nation’s most recognizable theme park destinations, Luna Park reopened on April 9 after spending more than 500 days closed during the pandemic.

Alessandro Zamperla, President and CEO of Central Amusement International, the company that owns and operates the park, is happy to see people on rides that are working again: “The amusement park industry is really about of passion – to love what you do. ”

Whether it’s taking a stroll on a boardwalk, taking a ride on a waterslide, or sitting next to strangers in a theater, the success of one business can mean the success of many.

“If we’re not open, then people don’t necessarily come on the boardwalk that often,” said Brian Hartley, vice president of Playland’s Castaway Cove, an amusement park in Ocean City, New Jersey. “Because we know we’re all in the same boat, everyone on this ride has to work together if we are to survive.”

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