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Long Island Tourism Industry Takes Major Hit Due To Travel Restrictions, COVID-19 Fears

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Efforts are underway to help the hospitality industry overcome massive financial shortfalls due to lost revenue amid the pandemic. But Long Island’s tourism economy still faces hurdles.

Tourism and hospitality on Long Island are typically a $6 billion a year industry. Travelers from around the world flock to its mansion estates, beaches and vineyards.

Nearly 100,000 Long Islanders work in tourism — most of them at small businesses and restaurants that rely on tourist dollars.

Now, the pandemic and economic shutdown have changed all that.

“It is the hardest hit industry of any others on Long Island,” said Kristen Jarnigan, president of tourism group, Discover Long Island.

Jarnigan said tourism pumped $740 million into state and local coffers last year.

“And that's what funds so many of the services in our counties that we as residents rely on, so when those revenues go missing, that really impacts every single resident on Long Island in a negative way,” she said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has restricted travel from states with high coronavirus infection rates — about two-thirds of the country. He said it’s to protect the progress New York has made in preventing the spread.

“The virus is now spreading in states all across the country," Cuomo said. "And now we're fearing a second wave, which is really just the rebound from those states and the increased infection coming back to New York.”

But it’s a double-edged sword. Travelers to New York might have to self-quarantine for two weeks after arriving — that could mean their entire vacation. So tourism advocates are marketing Long Island as a travel destination to other New Yorkers.

“People from upstate who've never discovered Long Island, this is your opportunity. The roads are not congested. The beaches are still magnificent,” said Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, who chairs the state’s 10 regional economic development councils.

The marketing has even turned hyperlocal.

Ernie Catanzaro is with Blue Sky Hospitality Solutions. He oversees multiple hotels across Long Island. He said hotel chains that rely on business customers lost out as most companies have switched to teleconferencing.

“It’s a whole different ball game right now,” he said.

Catanzaro said hotels have shifted to targeting leisure customers instead, with “staycations” at nearby hotels.

“There are a lot of locals, you know, from the area that are looking to get away for a few days with their family,” he said.

He said decreased rates and on-site pools are key to attracting local families who are not vacationing out-of-state now. Another challenge is helping customers feel safe when they enter hotels.

“Hilton has a program where after the room is cleaned, they put a sticker on there. And it's basically a sealed sticker to know that you're the only one that went into that room,” Catanzaro said.

Martin Cantor is a former Suffolk County Economic Development Commissioner. He said in-state vacationers will not make up for the hits Long Island’s tourism economy will ultimately take this summer.

“The revenues that we've lost, we've lost forever. Because you know, seasons can't be made up,” he said.

Cantor said it will take more than just a sticker to restore consumer confidence, adding that the tourism sector hinges on how quickly a vaccine is developed.

“The road to rebuilding the economy goes right through the research laboratories who are working on the vaccine,” he said.

Without a vaccine, he doesn’t think customers will feel safe enough to resume their pre-pandemic lifestyles.

“And that will not fare well whether it be in tourism or any other related industries that are the secondary economic impact of tourism,” Cantor said.

A report released last month on the economic impact of the virus says Long Island’s tourism and hospitality industry could take two years to rebound.

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.