Summer visitors down during pandemic

Jul 13, 2020

Summer visitors are crucial to the economy in Wareham and across the region. This year, visitors are more cautious -- and that’s having a big effect on many local businesses. 

Marie Oliva, President and CEO of the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, said that tourism is the number one industry in Plymouth County -- and that the coronavirus pandemic has had a “dramatic” impact on the economy. 

In Wareham, realtors and hotel managers are ramping up their cleaning protocols and doing the best they can to adapt to the new challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Daniela Tolle of Jack Conway on the Bay said that this season is “definitely significantly different” from a typical summer in Wareham. 

Overall, she said that her summer rentals are down by about 30 to 35% from last year. 

She said that part of the decrease is due to the cancellation of the Cape Cod Baseball League season. While the players in the summer league stay with host families, other league participants like interns and groundskeepers usually depend on summer rentals.

Other tenants simply didn’t feel safe or think that moving for the summer would be worth it, given the shutdowns and limited options for recreation. 

Tolle said that she has seen an increase in business since restaurants have reopened, but many of the leases are shorter than usual. 

While summer rentals are typically booked in the winter and spring, many renters are just now negotiating and signing leases for the summer. 

One family that usually stays in Wareham for 3.5 months has limited their stay to just two months this year. 

Tolle said landlords and tenants have expressed concerns about summer rentals during the pandemic. Potential tenants are often worried about the house or apartment being thoroughly sanitized before they go there, and some landlords are worried about what might happen if a tenant contracts coronavirus. 

Tolle said that the real estate agency doesn’t determine conditions for signing a lease with coronavirus-specific conditions, but tenants and landlords are encouraged to work out those details amongst themselves before reaching an agreement.

While many realtors seem to be struggling, short term rentals offered by Swifts Beach Real Estate have actually been in higher demand than usual lately, according to realtor Delaney Robinson.

Robinson’s agency rents vacation cottages on a weekly basis, which Robinson said seems to be a draw this summer for people who are looking to get away after being cooped up in their homes for the past few months. 

“It’s a little getaway, it’s something different for people,” Robinson said. 

To keep everyone safe, Robinson said that extra time has been allotted to thoroughly disinfect the cottages before the next group of guests check in. 

Masks, antibacterial wipes, and even mints to ward off “mask breath” are being given to guests to make sure they can do their best to stay safe from the virus. 

Robinson added that the agency keeps contact tracing sheets in its office and tracks the name and phone number of every guest, just in case someone does test positive for the virus. 

Robinson attributed part of this year’s success to the limits on out of state travel. 

She said that one group had to cancel their April vacation trip to Florida and decided to go to Swifts Beach instead. 

Many guests waited until the last minute to book a cottage since the state guidelines have been changing quickly, but the overall volume of bookings is actually higher than usual this summer. 

Robinson said the vast majority of guests are from Massachusetts. There was one out of state guest, but they followed the guidelines by quarantining with a family member for two weeks before checking into the cottage. 

To varying degrees, hotels and motels intown have also had to adjust to the pandemic. 

Co-owner John Salerno said that the Glen Cove Hotel was riding a lot of momentum after a successful first year of business in 2019, but “it’s just getting started again” after shutting down due to the pandemic. 

The hotel stopped booking rooms from March 13 through the month of June. All 14 rooms are available again, but Salerno said that bookings through the first week of July have been “way off” compared to last summer. 

That’s likely because many of his guests stay at the hotel to attend weddings and other large gatherings, which simply aren’t taking place right now. 

The hotel’s two restaurants, The Bay Room and The 1883, are now open for indoor and outdoor dining. The hotel normally has live music every Friday and Saturday, but Salerno said that he is not hosting live music at this time. 

He said he is considering a new “package deal” where hotel guests can add a dinner to their booking. He added that the hotel has two public balconies, and four rooms with private balconies, which make for a scenic and socially distanced eating experience. 

The Briarwood Beach Motel is completely closed due to the pandemic this summer, according to the motel’s answering machine.

According to Oliva, the economic impact of the change in business for summer rentals and hotels is difficult to determine at this time. 

As the future of the pandemic is hard to predict, it is also unclear how summer rentals and the town’s seasonal economy will be affected in years to come.