Leaders in the hospitality sector and local community are hosting weekly conference calls with updates related to the COVID-19 crisis. Here is a summary of the call from Thurs., April 30, 2020 (or if you prefer to listen to the full recording, please find it here)...

Dennis Edwards, GRCVB president and CEO, noted that last week's hotel occupancy rate was at 29.5%, an increase of about three percent from the week before.

He also reported that, year-to-date, 107 meetings and conventions have canceled, events that would have brought 135,000+ people to the area and totaled 79,000 room-nights used. Those cancellations add up to a direct economic impact loss of $54 million.

From others on the call:

Lynn Minges, president and CEO, North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA)

  • Lynn cited Governor Cooper's plan for reopening the state and projected that restaurants and bars will begin reopening in Phase 2, the third or fourth week of May.
  • NCRLA is working with the North Carolina Division of Public Health regarding procedures and protocol for restaurants (e.g., six feet of social distancing, operating at 50% capacity, etc.). The plan may also call for health screenings for employees and protective equipment (masks and gloves).
  • She is advocating with policy-makers that the industry get at least two weeks' advance notice before reopening so they will have time to prepare (gathering supplies, rehiring staff).
  • NCRLA has prepared a letter outlining the N.C. Restaurant Promise, which has been sent to Gov. Cooper's office. (Read more about the Promise program here.) Since restaurants already adhere to strict health and food safety regulations, the promise letter states that they will be even more diligent about the safety of their patrons in the COVID-19 era.
  • The association surveyed restaurants in N.C. recently, which showed that 77% have lost 70% or more of their business during the shutdown. The survey also indicated that 35% of our state's restaurants will not be able to reopen (would permanently close) if the restrictions continue beyond two months (that would be approximately May 17, 2020). Also of the state's 550,000 hospitality workers, 300,000+ are currently unemployed.
  • NCRLA has effectively lobbied for the deferment of tax and permit deadlines for restaurants, and the General Assembly is considering allowing mixed drinks to be sold through carry-out/delivery, if they are transported in the trunk of vehicles. If successful, that would create another revenue stream for restaurant owners.

"Restaurants," Lynn said, "are ready to get back to business."

From Chris Dillon, assistant county manager for Wake County

  • Wake County currently has 825 positive cases of COVID-19, 43 more than the day before. Seventeen people have died, and 55 are currently hospitalized. 
  • Officials are seeing a spread of the virus in jails, nursing homes and farming communities where migrant workers are living in close proximity.
  • Wake County-specific restrictions were rescinded on April 30, 2020, and the county will now follow the same guidelines the governor has outlined for the state.  

Jason Smith, chef/owner, 18 Restaurant Group
Jason is owner of three restaurants in the Triangle; two in Wake County and one in Durham.

  • He and his team set up curbside service two days after the shutdown began, which was "rocky" at first.
  • He was able to access the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) portal early. That allowed him to pay his employees, but that money is running out. The "PPP was a lifeline"; however, it has forced him to carry unwanted debt. 
  • Patrons have ordered quantities of box lunches, which has been helpful and kept his staff busy.
  • He has team members dedicated to monitoring social media and other sources to find out what other businesses are doing to survive. Social media has been helpful in getting the public involved.
  • The problem with curbside, he says, is that it "happens all at once." His restaurants look busy when there are 20-25 cars waiting to pick up, but they aren't there the rest of the time. Busy for him is "300 people in the Cantina, drinking margaritas. That's what I'm good at; that's what I know how to do."

Rafael Baptista, MPA, senior manager, community economic development, City of Raleigh

  • The City of Raleigh continues to work with the Carolina Small Business Development Fund to provide resources for local business owners. The application will be launched in early May, but they plan to give applicants early notification so they can prepare their documentation.
  • The City also hosted a webinar last week with assistant secretary for the N.C. Department of Commerce Lockhart Taylor, who discussed issues that affect sole-proprietor business owners or independent contractors. Topics included how to qualify for N.C. unemployment benefits; what N.C. unemployment obligations do business owners have when they release staff; and what steps have been taken to improve access to unemployment benefits in North Carolina. You may listen to a recording of the webinar here.
  • City staff is also looking for ways to help small businesses once the restrictions are lifted.
  • The City has added multiple translations on its website for COVID-19-related information for non-English speakers.

The next weekly Wake County Tourism Industry Coronavirus Briefing is scheduled for Thurs., May 7, 2020, at 1:30pm.