It should come as no surprise the hospitality industry in not only Alaska, but worldwide, is severely damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. This economic damage is created by a wide range of factors, not just government-mandated closures. Reduced consumer confidence, high unemployment rates, significantly reduced tourism activity and logistics chain disruptions all collaborate to create this storm that many businesses will not weather. As the businesses go, so do the jobs.
Last week, the new acting mayor of Anchorage held a press conference imploring the residents of our fair city to take the recommended precautions seriously. Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson chose not to arbitrarily close dine-in establishments, but instead asked Alaskans to take personal responsibility and do our work as citizens to protect one another’s health. We as industry representatives applaud this call to action and appreciate the opportunity to let Alaskans step up and make a difference.
While the health aspects of COVID-19 are concerning, we write today encouraging Alaskans to follow the guidance of our health professionals so that we can avoid the economic consequences of an uncontrolled spread. With Alaska hospitals filling, those of us in the hospitality industry feel the sense of urgency knowing unless this curve starts to flatten, another disastrous shutdown is imminent. While many citizens of Alaska and states throughout the nation have demonstrated strong opposition to closures, most of those efforts have had limited effects on local and state policies. Court challenges to mandates have been even less successful.
So, let us take the ball and deal with it ourselves. Wash your hands, wear masks and keep your distance. The hospitality industry has worked tirelessly to provide clean and safe environments for our beloved customers. We work to earn your trust to feel safe and enjoy a beer, some food and a little sense of normalcy. But now, more than ever, we need your help. As we hope our elected leaders have discovered, the May goal of no new cases per day is unrealistic. Today, the goal is to control the spread and not overburden our medical resources.
Respondents of a six-month economic impact survey of the hospitality industry reported on average, their year-over-year sales are down 72% from 2019, yet operating costs have increased. On average, hospitality businesses only have 47% of their normal employee count working. Most importantly, 76% of respondents do not believe their businesses will survive more than a year under current conditions and/or restrictions.
The government has some tools to possibly reduce the spread – tools that spell the end of jobs for thousands of our friends and neighbors, and the permanent closure of many restaurants, breweries and bars where Alaskans go on dates, celebrate birthdays, meet friends and build countless memories.
We, the citizens of Alaska, have tools too – tools that mean thousands of people get to continue working and keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads. Wearing a mask isn’t fun, changing your activities isn’t a joy, and paying close attention to your environmental hygiene isn’t exciting. We get it; we all share this experience together. However, if you really care about American jobs, don’t want to see your fellow Alaskans living on government subsidies, and want to keep life as normal as possible until herd immunity is achieved by vaccine or otherwise, then please follow the state-recommended guidelines for slowing the spread of COVID-19. Our industry desperately needs your help!
Lee Ellis is the Board President of the Brewer’s Guild of Alaska.
Sarah Oates is the President and CEO of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association (CHARR).
Sarah Leonard is the President and CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
Amanda Moser is the Executive Director of Anchorage Downtown Partnership.
Silvia Villamides is the Executive Director of Alaska Hospitality Retailers.
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