Bookings through the end of May are all postponed or canceled, Seaside Civic and Convention Center General Manager Russ Vandenberg said last week.
The shutdown, along with Gov. Kate Brown’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” order, is rippling through the city’s business community, nowhere more than the hospitality and restaurant industries.
At livestream meetings, including a Seaside Chamber of Commerce meetup and the Seaside Reopening Task Force Ad Hoc Committee, hospitality leaders spoke of the new world Seaside and other coastal towns will face after pandemic restrictions are lifted.
“I feel like I’m an astronaut floating in space,” Seaside Director of Tourism Marketing Joshua Heineman said. “I don’t know which way is up.”
The visitors bureau is “trying to pivot” in messaging, Heineman said.
Ads inviting visitors to Seaside have been pulled from Portland metro media. “We’re trying to be constructive,” he said. “It’s fear, and I understand that. At the same time, hotels need to open. Businesses need to open.”
Brian Owen, CEO of the chamber, said hotels are a key component to reopening, with a need for strategies to keep customers and employees open after the governor’s order is lifted.
“If a hotel starts to take general travel, will they leave a room vacant after somebody departs for one, two or three days to keep their employees safe?” Owen asked. “If a hotel does choose to have a vacancy void how can they schedule that out? These choices are going to affect the bottom line and efficiency of our hoteliers.”
Terrance J. Bichsel, chairman of the board of Best Western Hotels and Resorts and owner of Best Western Plus Ocean View Resort and Rivertides Suites Hotel, said his industry had been “particularly hard hit.”
“Hotels have a very high capital structure with huge amounts of investment capital, so it’s very challenging,” Bichsel said. “I will tell you, we have already started to change the way we do business.”
Social distancing, changed cleaning protocols in rooms and lobbies and staff training for interactions with guests are all at top of mind.
“We’re not going to enter a guest room unless the guests are out of the room,” Bichsel said.
Front desk interactions will be minimized behind plexiglass, with floor markers directing guests to maintain distance.
Restaurants will also face major changes.
Mark Utti of Damarkom Inc., owner of the Times Theatre, Finn’s, the Funland Seaside Arcade and Seaside Fultano’s Pizza, among other properties, plans to step up cleaning and safety protocols — “whatever we need to do to get open, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
During the shutdown, Wayne Poole of Pig ‘N Pancake and Oregon Fine Foods connected with the Seaside Civic and Convention Center to provide three weekly breakfasts to first responders, health care workers and those impacted by the coronavirus.
After reopening, Poole wonders if businesses will be able to survive. Social distancing, cleaning requirements and fewer visitors could make it “hard to be profitable on a sustainable basis,” he said. “If we have measures that severely restrict volume, it will make it a pretty difficult operating environment.”
Poole had hoped for spring break crowds and a summer to make up for the winter, “when things are marginal at best.” Poole is also concerned about getting employees back.
“Like everybody else, we’ve had to furlough or lay off many of our people,” he said. “I’m concerned about getting them all back. The labor market was tight. Now I don’t know what it is.”
Bichsel said the industry is ready for whatever comes next.
“In the hotel community, we’re prepared to tailor our services to meet this challenge,” Bichsel said. “You can take great comfort that the hotel community is prepared to reopen.”