Tourism industry to Ron DeSantis: Prioritize hospitality workers for vaccines
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The industry's recovery has been painfully slow.

Arguing that front-line tourism workers need to be protected if the economy is to emerge from the COVID-19 collapse, Central Floria tourism industry leaders on Friday urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to include their employees in the next round of priorities for vaccines.

The Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, Visit Orlando, and the International Drive Chamber of Commerce each wrote to DeSantis Friday urging him to consider the state’s largest — and hardest hit — industry when deciding who should be considered critical employees for COVID-19 shots at state-run vaccine centers.

“Hospitality and Tourism are critical to the success of Florida’s economy — with 1.6 million Floridians, and nearly 500,000 Central Florida residents being employed by the industries in 2019 — according to research conducted by Tourism Economics and VISIT FLORIDA,” CFHLA President Robert Agrusa wrote in his letter to DeSantis. “By ensuring hospitality and lodging employees are prioritized for vaccination under Phase 1c, it will help our region promote the safety of our destination to millions of eager travelers who — in peak travel years — have generated over $90 billion in economic impact for the state.”

Visit Orlando’s letter was co-signed by the organization’s Board Chair Brian Comes and President Casandra Matej.

They note, “This request is in line with the roll-out protocol listed on the CDC website, which also includes traveler accommodations personnel in the Phase 1c category as a prioritized group essential to continuing our country’s critical functions.”

Central Florida is among the tourism-economy heavy regions of Florida particularly hard hit by the economic collapse of the coronavirus crisis last spring and have been the slowest to recover. While Florida’s unemployment rate had softened to 6.1% by the end of the year, the jobless rate was still 7.2% in Orange County, and 8.7% in Osceola County where many lower-wage tourism and hospitality workers live.

Agrusa said other hotel and tourism associations around the state are sending similar letters requesting hospitality workers be recognized as priorities for vaccines.

The industry’s full recovery is expected to take years. But getting hospitality staff vaccinated could speed that up both by assuring their health and safety and by sending a message nationally that the hotels are safe, industry leaders argued.

Agrusa pointed out in the letter that the hotel industry has been doing its part in the battle against the coronavirus.

“Since March 2020, hotel properties have been utilized as a part of Florida’s initial COVID-19 testing strategy and are now continuing to serve as vaccine distribution locations. Hotels across the state have served as temporary lodging to house medical workers and other first responders, and hospitality and lodging employees have remained on the front lines of this pandemic for over a year,” he wrote.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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