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Coronavirus may not impact spring break travels in Tampa Bay, tourism leaders say

Posted at 3:37 PM, Mar 04, 2020

CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — Hospitality businesses on both sides of Tampa Bay are preparing for big crowds just in time for spring break.

The start of spring break is just days away but many are wondering how, if at all, the coronavirus could impact travel.

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ABC Action News checked with dozens of hotels in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties on Wednesday. While hoteliers are cautious, they haven’t seen many cancellations at all. Most visitors are opting to keep their spring break plans intact.

Hotels on Clearwater Beach are booked solid starting from the beginning of March through mid-April.

Tampa International Airport expects around 3.6 million passengers, if not more, to travel into the airport over the next month and a half.

Hospitality leaders tell ABC Action News while they’ve received some calls from wary travelers worried about the coronavirus, only a small number have decided to cancel.

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“It’s slammed. Honestly this is the fastest we’ve filled up in a number of years,” said Steven Phillips, of Sta ’N Pla Marina Resort on Clearwater Beach. “We’ve been booked solid for three months. The coronavirus is not really stopping anybody or worrying people to the point where they think they need to change their vacation plans, they just need to be safer in the way they travel.”

Restaurants are taking extra precautions to clean and encourage employees to stay home if they’re sick.

Robert Eustice, of Pearly’s Beach Eats, said he isn’t too concerned about the impact on the tourism industry.

“The year before last, it was red tide. This year, it is coronavirus. Everything is going to be fine, come to the beach,” he said. “You can’t change your day to day life. Take a little extra precaution but go out and have fun.”

Hotels are doubling up on housekeeping efforts.

“Because of the fact that we serve guests from all around the world, we are doing extra on our side to make sure everything is getting an extra eye to it,” Phillips added.

The visitor and convention bureaus on both sides of the Tampa Bay area say it’s too early to know for sure how the coronavirus will impact spring break travelers. However, they’ll be brainstorming with local, state and national groups via phone conferences over the next two days to prepare.

Bonnie Visser and Peg Weigle chose to keep their travel plans intact, traveling in from Michigan to Clearwater Beach.

“Yes, it’s been all over the news and yes, it is a concern,” Visser said. “But not enough to cancel our plans.”

“I was concerned about it I have to admit that, but I came prepared,” Weigle added. “I had three masks, four pair of gloves, some wipes.”

Weigle says she’s glad she came to Florida despite any fears about flying with risks of the coronavirus.

“No doubt! I said heaven can’t be nicer than this, is it?” she added.

Ashton Harper and Nathaniel Mallory, college students from Duquesne University in Pennsylvania, also chose to travel to Clearwater Beach for their school’s spring break.

“We made sure to wipe everything down on the airplane, but other than that we weren’t too concerned,” Harper said.

“I would hate myself if I missed out on all of this,” Mallory added.

Hoteliers also say they’re seeing one positive impact from the coronavirus: Some travelers who planned to take international trips are now rescheduling to visit Florida instead.

“If you’re not going international there’s no place better to be then the beach,” Phillips said with a smile.

Tourism leaders still expect to break record numbers for the amount of tourists traveling to Tampa Bay for spring break, despite concerns about the coronavirus.