Martha’s Vineyard hospitality: Save our season

Letter to governor seeks guidance on how hotels and restaurants can open.

44
Harbor View Hotel and other inns on Martha's Vineyard are looking for some direction from the state on opening.

In a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker’s advisory task force, 26 of the Vineyard’s innkeepers and hotel operators are expressing their fear of economic disaster unless they’re able to open for the summer season. The letter, which was sent to Baker’s advisory council on reopening the state, is also signed by 30 Nantucket businesses.

The letter points out that during the 2018 season the two islands generated $387 million in spending by visitors and have a combined hospitality payroll of $95 million. Hospitality accounts for 2,751 jobs, and provides $14 million worth of room and meals taxes for the state, as well as $17.7 million for local towns.

Diane Carr, who is a partner in the Hob Knob Inn and is acting as the spokesperson for the Martha’s Vineyard Lodging Group, said Martha’s Vineyard has never had an organized hospitality association, but owners have been talking in recent years. The effects of the pandemic on their industry made it important for them to work together.

“We all felt there’s strength in numbers,” she said of joining forces with Nantucket. “We’re all on the same page as far as what we’d like to see happen on reopening our season.”

The idea is to get some clear direction from the state. “We’re asking for the state to give us enough guidance in advance — don’t flip the switch without giving us preparatory time,” she said.

Carr said there was acknowledgement from a member of the advisory panel who works with Cape Air that the letter’s been received. The letter outlines the need to open with the safety of guests paramount.

“We the undersigned members of the lodging community located on the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket collectively represent the majority of economic activity on both islands, in addition to construction and real estate,” the letter states. “We are deeply concerned about the impact the pandemic is having not only on the health of our residents but on the economic viability of our businesses and on our communities. Our impending crisis was recently highlighted by the very serious financial plight of the Steamship Authority, who also earns all its income in the peak summer months. The boat line, our lifeline, has public funding support options — we do not.”

The letter goes on to point out that the bulk of their business takes place between May and Labor Day. “The fragility of our tourism-driven economy lies in its seasonality and the reality that almost all of our businesses are small and family owned. It is within this very short window of time that island residents and business owners have their only opportunity to make a living,” the letter states. “As the season is soon upon us, it is critical that we begin to re-open and prepare our hotel, restaurant, and other tourism-based businesses to welcome guests. We understand and respect the need to phase the re-opening of our state-wide economy and support proper health restrictions. If we lose the summer season the impact will be devastating to our island’s economies and our businesses.”

Baker has set May 18 as a target date to begin reopening the economy and has an advisory committee working on how to best proceed.

In his press briefing on Tuesday, which was held after he toured Merrow Sewing Machine Company in Fall River — a company making personal protective equipment (PPE) — Baker said the advisory committee continues to meet with business groups across the state. He added that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has started to see some positive trends in the number of cases and fewer hospitalizations, but those will have to continue in order to reopen parts of the economy.

“We’ve seen a pretty steady downward trend on the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 for just about a week. That’s a really encouraging sign and a key piece of data we watch closely with respect to almost all issues associated with how we’re doing,” Baker said. “As we come to the other side of this and start to consider next steps for going forward, we need to see these numbers continue to fall and that’s based on guidance we’ve gotten from this country and, frankly, from many others as well.”

In their letter, the business leaders are seeking guidance on reopening. “We seek the state’s leadership in laying out specific reopening guidelines and restrictions by May 18 so that local officials in our communities can consistently apply, support, and follow these restrictions and directives thereafter,” the letter states. The letter cites gathering capacities, restaurant capacities, and transportation capacities as information that is critical. “We are committed to following all new commonwealth mandated protocols to provide a safe environment for both our employees and guests.”

The hospitality industry is ready to tackle any new standards having to do with social distancing, hygiene protocols, staffing and operations, cleaning and disinfecting, and educating our employees and revising our operational procedures, according to the letter.
“We ask you to give us a fighting chance to salvage what is left of the season and save our communities from economic collapse,” the letter states.

Carr said the hotel owners and innkeepers want to know what to tell customers who are calling to inquire. “We’re trying to give as positive a message as possible. Martha’s Vineyard is a wonderful place to vacation. There are larger events that are not happening, but we believe our beaches will be open and we’ll be open when we’re told to be,” she said. “A lot of it is up in the air and we don’t know. You just sigh because you don’t know.”

Baker didn’t address the letter from the Vineyard and Nantucket businesses on Tuesday, but he was asked about the protest outside the State House on Monday by people calling for him to ease restrictions.

Baker said while he appreciates and understands their concerns, he reiterated the need for the stay-at-home advisory and his ban on nonessential businesses. Without addressing or criticizing the protestors, Baker praised those who are complying with the efforts and reiterated the positive trends in the date. “I think from my point of view, the most amazing part of this, is people understand and have communicated they get the tradeoffs,” he said.

And, on the eve of his order calling for everyone to wear face coverings or masks in public places as of Wednesday, Baker said it’s not about keeping individuals safe from the virus as much as it’s about slowing the spreading COVID-19. “I’ve said this many times that the main reason you wear a mask, OK, is partially to protect yourself from others, but it’s mostly to protect others from you,” he said. “I know that’s kind of a hard concept when most of us think being sick comes with outward signs of symptoms. And for a lot of the people who end up dealing with COVID-19 and coronavirus, the outward signs and symptoms are brutal. But for a significant portion of the population that gets this virus and carries it and can in fact pass it on to others, there’s a growing body of evidence they may show no symptoms at all — they may not even know that they had it.”

Ultimately, Baker said he believes the public will do the right thing. “It’s not just about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting your friends and your family and your co-workers and those around you.”

44 COMMENTS

  1. Charlie needs to look at economic ruin his policies are causing which will also cost us in lives

    • First and foremost Charlie needs to look at the number of human deaths his Covid – 19 policy is causing.
      4090 and, counting.
      How many people have died due to the downturn in the economy?
      4?
      8?
      16?
      How many lives did Baker save by putting MA in minor virus lockdown?

  2. I don’t understand the argument that we need to open up hotels and restaurants against the health advice of the professionals. As soon as people start getting sick everything will be shut down. Killing off your customers is not a long-term business strategy.

    • Better they approach this as they’re doing, rather than demonstrating in groups with guns and Nazi signs. At least they’re not spreading disease to make their concerns known, unlike those terrorist morons.

  3. The world is nearing 4 million cases and the US is well into the millions, so stop thinking that MV will be fine. Make all the statements that you choose, the reality of the situation, is that the virus isn’t slowing down at all. It’s due to thinking along the lines of this article, I’m a 4th generation Native and I don’t want to see a decline either. Let’s be logical about this and give the virus time to be eradicated.

    Hotels are going to be one of the main sources, where this virus will grow. Let’s be real, this summer is over and it’s time to realize that and work on helping to rid the island of this virus.

    People think the hot weather will kill the virus and the summer is saved. What there not understanding, is that people can get it again and its changing.MV is no where near out the woods and Baker is doing what needs to be done.
    Focus on next summer, or the money that you’ve claimed is being lost.Will be doubled or even tripled, if this virus continues to grow. This is part of owning a business on MV, when things like this happen. You need to do what’s needed to rid them and prepare for next season.

    This is still the off season and we’re already at 23 cases and what do you think is going to happen in the summer months.Being ignorant about the situation and only thinking about the bottom dollar, is going to catapult this island in permanent lockdown..

    • How do you suggest we make up for the millions of dollars that will be lost in rooms, rental and meal taxes? Will you volunteer to be the one notifying teachers, police and town workers that they have to be laid off? Of course you won’t complain when real estate taxes go up next year to cover these losses.

      • I would suggest that you *not* make up those dollars. The more that government caves to the pressures of the willfully ignorant, money > lives crowd, the longer and worse this pandemic will go on. If Baker says yes now, we might very well expect to see a similar letter next summer. Tear the bandaid off, keep the lockdown, and when the numbers reach zero we can open again.

  4. Are people a danger to the island if they take private transport to the island, go into their property, self isolate all summer, do some gardening outdoors on their own property, take a walk with mask in the off hours, and have everything delivered? Can someone answer that?

    • What do your questions have to do with the hotels and Inns on the island? From the way you phrased your questions you already have your answers. I wish I could afford to have all of my meals delivered.

    • Augusta, I guess the only concern left would be that these people arrive with the virus and end up needing medical care at a time when the hospital is overburdened. That could be harmful to themselves or others. Besides that, I think it sounds like a low-risk scenario. But also not a common one. Most will have to go out for groceries, and I’m worried about how things will work out with the boat. It will be hard to maintain social distancing, and I even wonder how many will be okay with wearing masks in the heat of July.

        • Lakeclouds, that’s if there’s room in Boston. If they experience a second wave at the same time we peak, who knows if there will be beds available. Everything is a big question mark.

        • Cloudy, they go off-Island when they need prolonged life-support. Not just sick, but blood clot, cerebral hemorrhage, embolism, organ-failure sick.

    • augustawynd, ok. i qualify as someone. if a person does all those things you mentioned in your comment, it would be safe to say that they would be ok. simple answer to your question.

  5. So ascot_wearer, will we shut down again when the cases start to go up after we open up when cases are zero? Because they will. The virus will not go away and will not be “controlled” until enough people have had it. The longer we cower at home, the longer that will take.

    • True – we need to adopt the Swedish model and get herd immunity up to 60%. Old timers need to stay in doors but those under 50 (or 60) should go about their business

      • lakeclouds, except for the fact that out of the 22 people that tested positive on the island, 16 were under 50.

          • lake clouds— actually one person who tested positive,was airlifted to Boston and died. While the official report could not “prove” covid was the cause, it was likely. So if we count that death as from covid, we have a 4.5 % death rate. Compare that to the flu, at .02 %

          • don don it seems like no one taught you how statistics work. If you want to make a statistical statement with confidence, you need a large sample size. 22 people is not a large enough. Not to mention those cases only account for the very few people who were deemed sick enough to receive the test. Look at the bigger picture. Experts are estimating 1.3 % mortality among symptomatic people. If we account for asymptomatic cases that number is much lower. No death is good but let’s be careful before going around claiming there’s a 4.5% death rate. This is how fake news spreads

      • Cloud: Sweden’s mortality rate, 279.98 deaths per 1 million people, is higher than that of the United States, of 205.53 deaths per 1 million people. (https://www.businessinsider.com/us-sweden-different-coronavirus-approaches-both-could-cause-deaths-2020-5.)

        “Sweden has Avoided a Coronavirus Lockdown. Its Economy Is Hurting Anyway.
        Even without legal prohibitions, many Swedes are following social-distancing recommendations and limiting travel” https://www.wsj.com/articles/sweden-has-avoided-a-coronavirus-lockdown-its-economy-is-hurting-anyway-11588870062

        Is this the model what you really want to adopt?

        • Sweden will hit herd immunity sooner and be functioning normally while the rest of the lock down countries will not. The deaths in the US are postponed not avoided until we reach 60-70% Covid immunity. Sorry that’s just how it works.

          • clouds, how do you know that there will be any herd immunity, for anyone? As yet, no one knows if the antibodies produced by innate immunity will produce lasting memory B cells/plasma cells. For inlfuenza A and B, these cells are not produced. For varicella-zoster virus (chicken pox, one of the herpes viruses) memory cells are produced. To complicate matters, that same virus in children can wake up and cause shingles in adults. From that same family of viruses also comes Herpes simplex 1. Lots of infections from viruses that do not lead to herd immunity. Do you still want to follow the Swedish model?

  6. New News, I know the people of whom I referred would love to be able to be not compromised and be ambulatory so they could do for themselves, but that ship has sailed. There are people who simply cannot do for themselves.

  7. I hope everyone takes the time to read the numbers, the actual data,not the models. The average age of death from Covid in MA is 82. To date of the 4400 deaths in MA 2600 are from long term care facilities. This is tragic but the reality is we need to start a gradual reopening, especially with the younger population. Hotels in parts of Europe are on a staged reopening with many waiting until August. It’s the reality.

    • Amen. And with all this stimulus money being doled out it would seem like a good idea to take better care in protecting our long term care facilities from being infected in the first place. No one is saying “kill grandma,” jackie. No need to be so dramatic.. The fact is lockdown is not adequately protecting old folks homes at all.

  8. So all you people that have a thought of save the season have to sacrifice a percentage to die is ok with you all ?

      • An old chestnut in a new era. Auto accidents are not contagious. Elderly people who aren’t in cars can’t catch one in an assited living facility. Infants in neonatal intesive care don’t catch auto accidents. In 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes. That’s for the whole year. https://www.nsc.org/road-safety/safety-topics/fatality-estimates. As of this post, 1,256,771 Americans have tested postive for COVID-19. 75,661 died.

      • BS, I wouldn’t say that’s true. How many car accidents and deaths are due to avoidable negligence? A lot. An awful lot. Drinking and driving. Distracted driving. Texting. Driving while not alert. Choosing to do these things is more comparable to the risk of exposing others to corona. But just operating a car cautiously and responsibly? No, I wouldn’t say you’re sacrificing others. Least not on the same level that a reckless reopening of businesses might. The truth is, we can do a LOT to lower auto fatalities. Just as we can help prevent some unnecessary COVID deaths by opening the country up slowly and using contact tracing. We need tests and a unified effort to pull it off.

  9. We have to open the world back up, 33 million people (US citizens) that can be on unemployment, are on unemployment, people and kids are going hungry and I’m sure some people are losing their shelter (either can’t pay mortgage or rent) We cannot continue to sacrifice the many to protect the few. Have any of you looked at the history of pandemics? This isn’t the first and won’t be the last. We cannot continue to cower in our homes indefinitely. There has to be a plan to get back to some sort of normalcy. We need hope, not fear mongering.

  10. Apparently, some feel “opening up” is more important than being alive or losing a family member or friend. I don’t know about you, but I will give up absolutely anything to keep my loved ones safe. Anything…

  11. Once upon a time there was a flock of geese that laid golden eggs. Each summer the flock descended upon Martha’s Vineyard and laid golden eggs everywhere. Everyone was happy and collected the golden eggs. Then one year there was a disease which clearly had the probability to kill or at least severely injure the flock of geese. Now we have a choice, sicken the geese to get one more season of eggs or wait out the disease and then go back to collecting golden eggs. We all know the moral of the original story… don’t be greedy and don’t kill what sustains us.

    • Great post, Fangs! I am also a big fan of Aesop, but in our application I think the geese are going to poison US!

  12. two inch– good story with a singular focus–
    However , we now have a third character in the story. that being —–“Us” —-it won’t really matter how many golden eggs are being pooped on our island if we are all dead.
    Now of course , we won’t all die, but please explain to your elderly or physically compromised relative or friend the cost/benefit ratio and how you will be so proud of them that they die basically by slowly drowning so others can buy T shirts and coffee mugs .

  13. Dobson, I guess with all the feathers flying I didn’t clarify… yeah we need a year off to let the pesky disease die out before we restart! Don’t want anyone to leave the planet before they want to!

  14. What does “the season” mean? Yes, typically it’s from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This summer may be(and should be)different. Maybe opening doesn’t happen until late June, or mid- to late-July. Perhaps it doesn’t happen until August 1st. That would be a sane compromise to me. Things are changing very rapidly with COVID-19 and a matter of weeks can be crucial, so it seems prudent to gather as much information as possible around regulations for reopening now in order to open when the time is determined. The new protocols will require lots of preparation. This letter is asking the state to provide information and emphasizes how important the summer months are to our livelihoods. It is not telling the state to open right now. Perhaps accepting this as a grey situation, as opposed to a black-and-white one is the most reasonable thing to do.

Comments are closed.