Many innkeepers have found ways to open their properties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring changes to many aspects of their business. We thought it would be helpful to interview some of them and share their insights on how they are managing their businesses in today’s climate. This is one in a series of feature articles on Post-COVID Re-Opening.

For this installment of the article series, we highlight the challenges that Julio Torres, owner of the Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast in St. Augustine, Florida faced with the pandemic, and how his property has adjusted its operations to overcome them.

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During the early summer months, the pandemic started to have an impact on Florida, at a time when regions like the Northeast were seeing a decline in cases.

As a result, innkeepers in St. Augustine, Florida were facing challenges at a time when innkeepers in other regions across the country were exploring opportunities to re-open.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride in Florida,” said Torres. “Things started out well in Florida. Then as we moved from phase one to phase two, the enthusiasm for travel dampened. It was not as bad as things were in March, but not as good as we wanted.”

For Florida inns, the busy season tends to be from Thanksgiving through April and May. But this year, due to the pandemic, most inns were closed. The Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast took the time however to ramp up both its cleaning and communications to potential guests.

It also reconfigured its dining room to be socially distanced, set up outdoor dining, and eliminated self-service touch-points on the property. Now, all food and beverage are brought to guest tables by staff wearing masks.

“We shortened the check-in process, and we are no longer doing room refreshes,” added Torres. “In addition, we have done many mass emails to potential guests, and posted information to our website about how we are keeping them safe. Also, guests feel comforted seeing the staff wearing masks. We have received lots of praise from our guests.”

In June, bookings turned around for the Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast, driven by a discount promotion that resulted in 184 guest registrations.

“We have a lot of people who have been impacted by the pandemic, and we wanted to roll out a discount to our loyal clientele,” said Torres. “As a result, we topped last June in terms of booking, though we experienced a drop in July due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.”

When looking to the future, Torres hopes for brighter days where he can be more connected with guests during their stays.

“We would like to go back to a highly personalized way of greeting guests, and we are all again sitting elbow to elbow at a bar,” said Torres. “I’d like to see the day where we can shake hands, and if a guest gives us a hug, we are comfortable hugging them back.”