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Hotel industry taking hard economic hit because of coronavirus pandemic

Hotels in the Tampa Bay area and around the country are cutting back on staff and dealing with cancellations during the spring break season.

SARASOTA, Fla. — Usually, around this time of year, hotels in Sarasota are packed. 

But with the coronavirus, people are canceling their reservations and leaving many out of a job.

"We really did go from the highest highs," Virginia Haley said. "It looks like we may have had the best February ever, to now we're in that terrible position of our hotels having to lay off employees."

With COVID-19 continuing to spread, the president of Visit Sarasota, Virginia Haley, says the hospitality industry is taking a hit.

"Some of our hotels are down to almost zero occupancy," Haley said.

It's not just Sarasota feeling the impact.

A study done by the American Hotel and Lodging Association says 44 percent of hotel employees in every state are projected to lose their jobs.

The study breaks it down by state. In Florida alone, out of 201,433 people who work at a hotel, 88,631 will be unemployed.

"A lot of our businesses were just getting back on the positive side from red tide," Haley said. "They were finally getting back to a normalcy and then to be faced with this really really hurts."

Haley says it's too soon to know the full economic impact, but she says this virus is already proving to be greater than red tide.

"We won’t really see the full impact until probably the last week of April, but it’s easy to understand it will be a significant, just the cancellations of spring training is enough to know it will be a big number," Haley said.

According to an Oxford Economics study, a 30-percent decline in hotel guest occupancy could result in the loss of nearly 4 million jobs, with $180 billion in wages and a $300 billion hit to the GDP. 

RELATED: Latest on COVID-19 in Florida: 1,171 cases, all state parks and beaches closed

RELATED: President Trump appears to waffle on shutdown as Congress pursues aid

This kind of impact could cripple the hotel industry, the local communities they serve and the U.S. economy. 

Hotel managers say laying off employees is not something they want to do, but if money is not coming in, how are there supposed to give a paycheck?

A study done by AHLA shows alarming numbers. The hotel industry supports nearly 2.3 million jobs directly and more than 8.3 million jobs total.

“The impact to our industry is already more severe than anything we’ve seen before, including September 11th and the great recession of 2008 combined,” AHLA president and CEO Chip Rogers said.

Haley's biggest concern is smaller businesses like Sandbox on the Beach rentals out at Siesta Key.

"We have canceled everybody for the last two weeks and we had several people cancel in the future all the way up into June," Roger Esslinger said.

Esslinger is the owner of Sandbox on the Beach and has been for the last 20 years. He's got eight units, with most of them right on the water.

"We have one person in house and that's it!"

After barely surviving red tide, Esslinger is hoping to make it through the coronavirus.

"We're pretty lean right now so hopefully this doesn't last forever and we can get back to business," Esslinger said.

AHLA and hotel CEOs already met with President Donald Trump and Congress to get help in this crisis. Many small businesses are also hoping for some help along the way.

"Anxiously awaiting to see what kind of packages the federal government will have," Haley said. 

"We know the state has already activated the small business bridge loan so hopefully the combination of possibilities will help keep our small businesses afloat."

RELATED: Latest on COVID-19 in Florida: Death toll climbs to 18, with 1,227 cases reported

RELATED: Florida stay-at-home order 'not advisable,' DeSantis says, while travel restrictions incoming

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