VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — While Gov. Ralph Northam’s phase 1 re-opening blueprint leaves open the possibility for restaurants to offer dine-in service again, hospitality guru Bruce Thompson thinks that could all be for nothing in Virginia Beach if the beaches aren’t open.
In his last two press conferences addressing Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northam (D) has reiterated that portions of his executive order that shuttered non-essential businesses could be lifted once the state sees a 14-day downward trend in case numbers.
However what hasn’t been mentioned lately is Northam’s plan for beaches.
Northam ordered beaches closed March 30 to everything but “exercising and fishing” as part of his stay-at-home order. That order isn’t set to expire until June 10.
Thompson said, as a member of Northam’s newly appointed COVID-19 Business Task Force, it’s a topic he will be regularly discussing.
“In Virginia Beach … we have to find a way to get the beach open and keep the beach safe,” Thompson said by phone last Friday. “Without the beach, the businesses this summer will not be viable and without a good strong summer … it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for them to make it through next winter.”
As CEO of Virginia Beach-based Gold Key/PHR, Thompson owns The Historic Cavalier Hotel at the Oceanfront and had plans to open up a brand new $125 million, 305-room Marriott hotel there earlier in the month.
Now, he has laid off 1,500 employees.
Even though visitors were never banned from visiting Virginia Beach or any other tourist location in the commonwealth, hotel occupancy has been down by more than 50 percent for several weeks.
“It’s tough,” Thompson said.
While keeping sunbathers safe from the coronavirus spread is one priority, another of Thompson’s is to help the state craft rules that will allow restaurants to reopen with a fighting chance.
“Trying to create rules that will accommodate the safety of guests and the employees, follow the state and national guidelines and allow the business to be successful and re-open quickly,” Thompson said.
He said putting a flat occupancy cap won’t work as the hospitality industry isn’t one size fits all.
He paints a phase 1 picture that includes no bar service, socially distanced tables, and servers, and cooks all wearing masks.
In his hotels, complimentary masks and hand sanitizer could become as common as fresh towels.
“If the governor will allow us to open, then by God it is our responsibility to keep the employees and public safe,” Thompson said.