PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Florida is now at risk of losing billions of dollars.
COVID-19 is having a major impact on the number of seasonal residents skipping their annual trek south to escape the cold winter months, and that’s putting a big strain on Mark Rocco’s bed and breakfast business in Dunedin.
Rocco owns Beyond The Wall, an 11-room Key West style bed and breakfast.
“We would normally be booked here this coming year for February, March and April, but we’re not seeing any reservations. People aren’t taking the chance,” Rocco explained, adding that 200 people have canceled their reservations since the beginning of the pandemic.
Rocco also says that’s trickling down to the rest of the community.
“My job is to point them that way,” he said, while motioning toward downtown. “That way is 25 restaurants, 30 shops and boutiques, 8 breweries and a distillery.”
Right now, Canada is restricting all non-essential travel and that’s having a major impact statewide.
Camille Lister is a hairstylist at Salon GW in Dunedin and says she looks forward to seeing the seasonal residents every year.
“They come down and give us that big sales boost. We love hearing their stories and their perspective on things,” she explained.
The Canadian Snowbird Association says half a million Canadians live in Florida for a portion of the year and 3.5 million visit our state every year. Combined, they spend a whopping $6.5 billion in the sunshine state.
“We see the same faces come back every year and they go ‘oh I love your shop this is my first stop,’” Linda Renc, co-owner of the Painted Fish Gallery added.
Local businesses tell us snowbirds account for around 30% of their annual revenue. Last March, many seasonal residents chose to cut their trips short because of the pandemic. Now, yet another busy season is at risk.
“We’re sad not to see the people and we totally understand the inability to travel right now, but we miss them for sure,” Lister elaborated.
Business owners are now forced to get creative with steep discounts, raffles and local advertising to make up the revenue shortfall.
Rocco says he is even trying to appeal to another group to stay at his and his wife’s property — veterans.
“The winter and spring months are our seasons and we have to make it to stay in business and turn a profit during the year,” he added.