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Get a look at the historic Don CeSar’s reopening policies – and a view of the beach

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video. 

On this episode, Todd Gehrke, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Don CeSar Hotel joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst to talk about the Don’s efforts to stay open during the pandemic and how it looks to move forward as our community begins to reopen.

Six weeks have felt more like six years since the coronavirus pandemic began pummeling Florida, says Gehrke. His team had come off its best February in its history, expecting its best March ever when it began monitoring the Covid-19 situation. Gehrke says they did not expect the situation to move as quickly as it did. He describes going from monitoring the situation, to some concern and risk mitigation, to furloughing nearly all of the Don’s nearly 400 employees.

At its lowest point, the Don CeSar furloughed all but 15 employees of its employees. Those employees, including Gehrke were doing everything, from beach umbrella duty to garbage and housekeeping.

While public beaches have been closed during the pandemic, the Don CeSar’s beach is private and was therefore allowed to stay open and welcome visitors throughout the public closure.

As our community looks toward reopening, Gehrke says he’s seen an uptick of demand from locals and Floridians from across the state looking to get back to normal, back outside and into the sunshine. He says recent calls have been off the charts, increasing from five calls a day to 300 calls in just a few days.

Gehrke says the most challenging part of running a hotel during the pandemic is that it includes five to six different business models in one operations. That means that the Don CeSar has had to examine each and every one of its business practices, and rebuild them from scratch to remove unnecessary touchpoints and ensure customer and employee safety.

Gehrke says the Don CeSar expects 50 check-ins tonight and plans to be even busier tomorrow .as it re-initiates previously furloughed employees and retrains them on brand new practices and procedures. From parking to check-in, to dining and beyond, the Don CeSar is reviewing each process and incorporating antibacterial washing stations, personal protective equipment (PPE), plexiglass barriers and various markings on the floors to direct patrons.

The Don CeSar’s current mantra? “Slow our pace, healthy space.”

Gehrke says that as demand ticks back up, his team is also returning to digital marketing campaigns, including the current “Think PINK” campaign, promoting Positivity, Ingenuity, Nimbleness and Kindness (PINK).

Be sure to watch today’s video to the end, when Gehrke gives viewers a glimpse of St. Pete Beach from the pool deck of the Don CeSar.

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