Students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) are concerned about their seasonal employment status and job opportunities, as a significant decrease in tourism is expected on Martha’s Vineyard this summer due to COVID-19.
Michael Wallace, who works as a busboy at Sandbar in Oak Bluffs, said the future of his family’s restaurant is unclear for as long as social distancing keeps up. “It will affect my job for sure, because I might not even be able to work there this summer,” he said. “If there are not enough tourists, we really just can’t afford to open up.”
According to the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, in 2018, tourism generated more than $178 million in direct spending and nearly $278 million in indirect spending on Martha’s Vineyard. This revenue supports hundreds of local businesses and families, and returned more than $10.1 million in local tax revenue to Island municipalities, and $7.2 million in state tax revenue during 2018.
According to research conducted by Oxford Economics, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, using current U.S. Travel Association data, estimated that Martha’s Vineyard will suffer a 30 percent loss in business due to the coronavirus pandemic. This means that for the calendar year, Martha’s Vineyard will lose $57.4 million in direct visitor spending as well as $5.5 million in state and local taxes. Without the tourist economy, the number of seasonal jobs accessible to students specifically will suffer a huge cut. This decrease in tourism will affect a variety of jobs ranging from lifeguarding to the restaurant business to nannying.
Freshman Ingrid Gunderson, who works as a busser at the Plane View Restaurant, expressed concern about whether or not she’ll be able to work. “It depends on what happens, if it gets worse or better,” she said. “I’m not sure yet.”
Michael and Ingrid agreed that there would be changes in their job protocols. “I think especially since I work in a restaurant where sanitation is already the top priority, it’ll be prioritized even more,” said Michael.
“We will have to be more cautious and more careful with how we clean the tables and dishes,” Ingrid said. “They will probably keep a smaller capacity and allow fewer customers in at once.”
Senior Vito Aiello has worked behind the snack bar at the Chappy Beach Club (CBC) for the past three summers and hopes to do it again this summer. As of now, the club, composed of mostly seasonal Vineyard residents, intends to open as scheduled.
As for Vito’s position, he has been guaranteed work of some kind at the CBC due to his seniority on the staff, but to what extent protocol will change remains unclear. “It’s very important for the members at CBC that we have personal connections and interactions with them,” he said. “I think that if [employees] have to wear lots of personal protection equipment, it will interrupt the natural flow of things and create an unwelcoming atmosphere at the club.”
Junior Mia Jeffers works as a camp counselor for the activity center at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort alongside 50 kids, ages 2-14, and around 10 other staff members daily. She said a reduction in the maximum number of children allowed into the camp may be necessary.
“It’s obviously not safe with the current guidelines to have all 60 of us in the space that we have,” she said. “They might have to shorten the age group that they allow in the resort so that it’s safer.”
Like Michael, she also expressed concern about the Winnetu’s inability to open at all, meaning potential job losses could number around 200.
High school student babysitters and nannies are also being heavily impacted by this uncertainty. Senior Maddy Tully is a full-time nanny for seasonal residents from Palm Beach, Fla., and their return to the Island for the summer is uncertain.
Maddy said, “A lot of kids on the Island rely on making money in the summer, so I think it would make a pretty big impact, especially going to college in the fall. I would be using a lot of that money towards tuition, but now I don’t know.”
Rental companies for bikes and watersports are expected to be among those taking the biggest hit this summer. Senior Colby Zarba, who has worked at Cottage City Rentals for three consecutive summers said, “If no one’s coming to the Island to rent houses, no one’s going to be renting bikes. The people that live here have their own bikes, so all the bike shops are 100 percent tourist-dependent.”
Junior Peter Gillis, a caddy at the Vineyard Golf Club, said that despite a later opening date, he isn’t sure how much of a difference the golf course will really see: “There will most likely be fewer members and golfers there playing,” he said. “But most of the people will still come down [I think], and at [the Vineyard Golf Club] there likely won’t be a huge change.”
Michael Cosgrave, a lifeguard for the town of Tisbury, said there’s not much one can do to prevent the annual wave of tourists to Island shores during the summer if they want to come. He thinks that seasonal families and residents will flock to our shores regardless of government regulations. “People either way are still coming to the Island. And they’re definitely not going to stop going to the beach,” he said.
Even if students are able to resume their summer jobs, COVID-19 may still be very much present in our community, posing a risk to many.
“If someone were to [start drowning],” said Michael, “I would have to get pretty up close and personal with them. If you’re going to touch them and give them blows with a breathing barrier, it definitely heightens your chance of contracting [the virus].”