Hernando County, part of an area known as Florida’s Adventure Coast, is working on the best ways to get its tourism to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county’s tourism development manager, Tammy Heon, said she is working on modern ways to attract visitors.
“By keeping everything digital,” Heon said, “we can make changes to include more southeastern states or start to reach to a further north audience when the time is right.”
Heon said outdoor experiences the county offers are doing better than restaurants and hotels, which have seen the greatest impact due to the pandemic.
“February through April really are our biggest months of the year, and of course that’s right about the time that we started shutting things down. Especially small mom and pop restaurants,” she said.
Brian Alvarez owns Hernando Beach Brian’s Place Restaurant, and the chef said this year brought challenges for his business, which forced him to lay off kitchen staff.
That makes him think that he might not ever get back to where he was at the beginning of the year.
“I will never be able to go back to my full menu,” he said. “I just don’t know if I will be able to just run at the pace that we were going.”
According to Heon, the Hernando County Tourism Development Committee projected a $300,000 loss in tourist development tax revenue.
But it is not just about dollars lost.
Alvarez said what affects him the most is not being able to be warm to his customers.
“Not being able to give them the Brian’s Place touch,” he said, “which is a handshake, a hug, a greeting and really trying to be standoffish to people that have become family.”
Catherine Reeves, a member of the county’s tourism committee and owner of The Bistro, Catherine Reeves, had to shut down her restaurant and brainstorm ideas on what could work best for her business.
She wasn’t prepared to offer different options like takeout, which left her with fewer sales.
“We didn’t really do much takeout because at that time we weren’t prepared for it,” said Reeves. “That just wasn’t something we do much of.”
Although this break brought losses to her business, she has been able to recover slowly and reinvent The Bistro.
Reeves believes that the best way to bounce back is by uniting with other businesses and helping each other out.
“We all promote each other, whenever I have anyone in, I am telling people about the wine area and restaurants and the other stuff,” Reeves said.
According to Heon, she has been exploring new ways to attract visitors for the holidays to share the unique essence of the county.
“The magic of that beautiful season that we have here in Brooksville — I think we’re going to be able to show it off and off it to everybody as we’d like to, but in a safer manner,” Heon said.
She believes the county’s trails, canals, preserves, forests and outdoor recreations are what has allowed tourism in the county to prevail.
She believes this is an advantage because people are more willing to visit open areas rather than closed spaces.
“All the things that folks are looking to do in the great outdoors, which is where most folks feel safer these days, are what we have to offer,” she said.
Heon also hopes vaccine distribution will help Hernando County’s economy bounce back to how it was before.