The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video version of the episode. Click the arrow below to listen to the full audio version of the episode.
Despite the many event cancellations and postponements because of concerns about coronavirus, St. Petersburg is still open for business, and Mayor Rick Kriseman is urging people to support shops and restaurants in the city.
While mass gatherings are discouraged and have led to cancellations of the Firestone Grand Prix and postponement of the Tampa Bay Rays season, among other events, many private businesses are open.
“We think there’s a need for them to be open. Unless you are in one of those categories where you are at risk and you’re not feeling well and you should be self-isolating, feel free to travel about the city of St. Petersburg, to visit our local businesses, to have dinner at a restaurant,” Kriseman said during an interview with Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber today launched a series of reports in partnership with the St. Pete Catalyst to bring together industry and community leaders to provide business intelligence to help local companies navigate the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is something new. We’re all in uncharted waters. We haven’t dealt with a pandemic before,” Kriseman said.
Steve Hayes, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, agreed with that description. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater’s role is to drive travel and visitation to Pinellas County. The coronavirus outbreak is impacting that mission, as some companies tell their workers not to travel, and meetings and conferences cancel.
“While we’re not a large meetings destination, we do have a number of properties that have meting space that do have conferences, and they are very important. What we’re seeing there is cancellations and also rescheduling of those meetings and conferences. Some of the time periods we are hearing is the August-September time period. But that doesn’t help us right now. This is in the heart of season. This is when everything happens,” Hayes said.
Like Kriseman, Hayes said the message he wants to get out is that Pinellas County tourism is open for business.
“Right now, travel is not top of mind,” Hayes said. “We’re trying to be respectful of that mentality. We’ll look at how we can continue our messaging, what we can pause for a little bit and then come back to, and also what is the message that is mindful of the situation that’s out there, that lets people know we’re here to welcome you.”
While many local businesses are prepared for weather disasters such as hurricanes, Kriseman said most businesses likely haven’t planned for a pandemic.
“If you are a business, and you have not put in place a continuity or a prep plan, this is the time you want to do it. Based on what we’re seeing, things could get a little worse, so prepare now,” he said.
“This data will help us and the county look to the federal and state government for some relief efforts potentially,” Kriseman said.
One big concern Kriseman has is price-gouging. That’s why, he said, the City Council passed an emergency ordinance yesterday.
“The most important thing, and one of the reasons I wanted this emergency order and powers in place, is what we’ve seen at some grocery stores and we’ve seen online where there’s price gouging going on. That’s something we don’t want to see. The worst thing you can do as a business when people are scared is stick it to somebody. If that’s something you decide you’re going to do, you’re not going to get away with that here in St. Pete. We’re going to hold you accountable for that. This allows me to do that,” Kriseman said.
And while he’s disappointed the Grand Prix has cancelled, he said there’s a silver lining.
“The city council this year approved a five-year extension for that race. We know the promoters and IndyCar can’t wait to get back to St. Petersburg next year. They love this city,” Kriseman said.