WFTV: Soto Speaks on Impact of coronavirus felt in Central Florida’s hotel, tourism industries

March 19, 2020
In The News

First the theme parks closed. Now, major hotels are planning to close.

The coronavirus is putting many jobs in jeopardy, especially tourism-related jobs. The American Hotel and Lodging Association has said the coronavirus is more damaging than 9/11 and the 2008 recession combined.

"Everybody, from the employers to the government need to take care of these folks in this crisis time,” said Jeremy Haicken, president of Unite Here Local 737, which represents food and beverage and housekeeping employees at Walt Disney World’s resorts and hotels, and other hotels and restaurants.

Hospitality union Unite Here Local 737 said it represents about 15,000 people who work in hotels and motels in the Orlando-Kissimmee area.

Disney-owned resorts and hotels are closing Friday at 5 p.m., and this week, Hyatt Regency Orlando announced it was closing.

The parks have been closed since Sunday night, but now even Disney’s stores will be shuttered because of the coronavirus crisis.

“We haven’t heard of any other closures, but occupancy is so low that, even if a hotel is technically open, there are very few people working,” Haicken said.

Multiple hotel chains either denied or did not return requests for comment.

More than 40% of the local workforce is tied to the tourism industry, according to a study on the Visit Orlando website.

"Employees at the Hyatt, at most hotels in Central Florida are not unionized, and it's really time for those employers to step up and do exactly what Disney did -- which is to pay while people are out of work," Haicken said.

Rep. Darren Soto said next week, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. plan to pass a comprehensive plan to help several industries, including tourism, and their workers.