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Hotels prepare for active Memorial Day weekend on Fort Myers Beach

Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and it’s normally a big money maker for hotels and businesses on the beach. But, with pandemic restrictions still in place, it’s still up in the air whether restaurants will stay busy and if hotels wiill get booked.

For the first time in 20 years, AAA is not forecasting Memorial Day travel, except to say a record low is expected.

But the businesses we spoke to on Fort Myers Beach Monday say 2020 Memorial Day weekend will be busy.

“I’m glad we didn’t open Memorial Day weekend,” said Scott Safford, the owner of Sea Gypsy Inn. “I’m glad we had last weekend to kind of practice, get our stuff down, so I think it’s going to be good.”

It’s the first holiday during Phase 1 of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Sea Gypsy Inn had its practice run. Now, Safford says they’re ready.

“We’ve changed things around,” Safford said. “We do self-check-in now instead of people coming to the front desk.”

Guests are no longer coming into the gift shop for towels. You’ll find them at your front door.

“We took all the throw pillows and things that you typically touch in a hotel room,” Safford said. “We check those out.”

They’re happy to do the extra work, Safford told us. Because, like many on the island, they have been out of work for weeks.

“Our staff is just happy to be here and back to work,” said Elie Rizk, the manager at Sunset Beach Tropical Grill. “A lot of them suffered a lot.”

That pent-up demand is something Rizk told us he thinks customers are feeling too.

“The northern states are still locked down, so they are coming down here,” Rizk said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of guests. They’re getting fed up with the restrictions up north so they’ve been coming down here to get away from it.”

Miami’s mayor said the city is waiting to open beaches until after the holiday. And all the businesses we spoke to told us that’s where most of their new customers are coming from.

Now, hotels told us they are getting all of the overflow from vacation rentals who still can’t book here in Lee County. The governor said individual counties can submit plans to the state to reopen their vacation rentals.

“The customers that are coming in are very gracious,” Rizk said. “They’ve been helping out, and we do appreciate that and thank them. We’re just glad to be back to work … Try to not be a knucklehead because we don’t want one person or one group of people to ruin it for everybody. We are very happy our beaches are open, and we’re very proud of it.”

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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