UPDATED, April 21, 5:45 p.m.: Developers and leaders in Florida’s hospitality industry are calling for a clear plan for reopening, with resort owners urging that the beaches open, along with restaurants and hotels.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced members of the state’s re-opening task force working group, including members of tourism, construction, real estate, transportation and other industries. Among them, Fort Lauderdale developer Dev Motwani, Phil Goldfarb of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, John Tolbert of the Boca Resort and Club, Stiles Corp. CEO Ken Stiles, and Restaurant Brands International CEO Jose Cil. (RBI owns Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, which have 750 locations in Florida.)
The tourism industry in Florida has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with hotels and restaurants across the state laying off thousands of employees. Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young said on a conference call with the task force working group on Tuesday that statewide hotel revenue was down more than $1.6 billion between March 1 and April 11 compared to the same period last year.
During the call, Goldfarb, president and COO of Fontainebleau Development, pushed to have the beaches open when hotels are allowed to begin operating again. Jeffrey Soffer’s Fontainebleau Development owns the 1,600-key oceanfront hotel in Miami Beach, along with the 685-room JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa in Aventura, among other properties.
Goldfarb was also concerned about when flights will come back to Florida, as well as the return of international and corporate bookings.
DeSantis opened up the call by telling task force members that there should be more of a focus on “what’s safe” versus what is non-essential and essential.
“If people can fight over toilet paper in Costco, then I’ve got to think there’s a way to run a restaurant safely,” he said. He also referenced the “huge hysteria that swept the country” and the uncertain timeline of when people will feel confident to get back to normal.
Motwani, president and CEO of Merrimac Ventures, brought up the need for a timeline for full-service restaurants re-opening. “While some have opened for takeout and delivery, many have fully shut down,” he said. “The ramp-up period is going to take some time.”
The task force industry working group also includes Walt Disney World Resort President Josh D’Amaro; John Sprouls, CEO of Universal Orlando Resort and executive vice president of Universal Parks & Resorts; Sheldon Suga, chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, who is also vice president regional managing director of Hawks Cay Resort; Max Alvarez, president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors; AJ de Moya, The de Moya Group’s vice president and general manager; and Len Brown, executive vice president and chief legal officer of the PGA Tour.
A separate re-opening task force executive committee will come up with recommendations for the governor by Friday, according to the Miami Herald.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Sheldon Suga’s title.