By Samantha Johns
Months into the pandemic, Miami’s tourism industry is leaving many workers without job opportunities.
Collecting content with a gorgeous view at the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, Isis Marrero said she felt extremely blessed to be starting off the year with a new job title. The promotion to senior marketing and communications Coordinator after only 10 months with the company was a major accomplishment for the recent Florida International University graduate.
Planning photoshoots, Marrero got the chance to experience exclusive guest amenities at the Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, and Fort Lauderdale properties. All the properties are known for having story-driven menus and live music that embodies the Miami cultural scene which made Marrero’s job seem like every day was a vacation.
The main goal: Curate an aesthetically pleasing social media feed that would invite locals and tourists to come to experience everything the luxurious hotel properties had to offer.
Watching her work adventures on social media, many of her friends were envious of Marrero’s fun hospitality job spent planning events and content creating. “A lot of people don’t really understand that it takes a lot of time away from you,” she said.
It wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic hit that others began to realize while working in tourism may seem like all fun and games there’s a lot that goes into creating a perfect escape for guests. “I’m constantly on my phone. Constantly having to work weekends and even like New Year’s Eve, I had to go to some of those events to capture that content for our social media.”
Sacrificing holidays and weekends aren’t the only difficult things Marrero has had to endure while working in tourism. Like many in the industry, she was told in March her position would be furloughed for 90 days because of the travel halt being experienced worldwide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our hotel ownership was preparing us for this moment and letting us know that the economy would probably be taking a downturn and that would most likely come with some layoffs,” she said. “I was mentally preparing myself, but just being so fresh into the workforce it was obviously a shock for me since I had such big aspirations out of college.”
When Florida announced it was moving into Phase 2 allowing hotels to reopen Marrero was optimistic she’d be asked to return to work during her monthly check-in for May. “I was really excited for this new year to tackle new goals of my own. Be able to expand within the company,” she said.
The news wasn’t positive. She was told her furlough would be extended until September with the potential for another extension or even a risk of job elimination. “I think there’s not much opportunity in the job market right now. Of course, I will keep my options open but with the status of the economy I don’t know if there are opportunities for me outside of the Ritz Carlton.”
With uncertainty looming for the future, the company did confirm with employees the elimination of five day work weeks for the rest of the year. Based on seniority and position those asked to return to work would be invited to three day work weeks with a potential for four days depending on how business is doing.
Overall, unemployment in Florida went up to 14.5 percent in May, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, despite the state beginning to reopen more during the transition to Phase 2.
“It was really difficult for me to cope with being out of work for so long,” said Monica Loshusan-Duys, a server at American Social Bar & Kitchen in Brickell.
“I’m used to constantly working events on the weekends and having a jam-packed work schedule,” she said. “I love the people aspect of the hospitality industry which is what made me want to pursue a career in this field.”
Loshusan-Duys holds a master’s in hospitality and tourism from Florida International University and never expected her industry to be so greatly impacted in the way it has been because of coronavirus. “Living in Florida we’ve all experienced hurricanes which have shut down tourism in a big way, but none of my coworkers have ever had to deal with being out of work for this long,” she said.
Natural disasters or major events like 9/11 have brought disruption to tourism in the past, but none of those compare to the coronavirus pandemic. All of those events had a definitive end date for cleanup to begin. Without a vaccine the virus has already shown signs of second waves hitting many areas in the United States, Florida included.
“If you look at our case numbers I know there’s a chance we might get shut down again and it terrifies me,” she said. “I recently just moved into a new apartment and I won’t be able to afford the rent if I were to be out of work again so I’m really hoping that we can get things under control.”
Stricter regulations have been implemented throughout Miami-Dade county,
but there’s no guarantee they will put a stop to the already increasing number of cases Florida has been experiencing since businesses began to reopen.
Higher case numbers and irregular work weeks aren’t the only big impacts residents in Miami have been dealing with. As social distancing has taken priority large gatherings for events have become a thing of the past.
“The event industry for music has come to a complete halt. Concerts were the first to be gone and sadly, will be last to come back, so we’re here for a while,” said Gabriel Tejada, operations manager at BLNK CNVS Presents. “It’s taken a big blow and we’re seeing how we can use our resources to adapt to this post COVID world.”
Tejada, who was working on multiple events for Miami Music Week, said he was nervous when travel bans started going out in early March throughout the U.S. “This week sees most if not all of our international tourists and starts people’s draw towards Miami making them want to come back for more. The DJs and events are used as bait to get tourists to travel and immerse themselves in Miami culture,” he said.
When the city of Miami Beach announced it was pulling all special events permits forcing all festivities to be canceled, Tejada said he was devastated. “We were having the time of our lives and getting ready for our biggest Miami Music Week yet. Canceling was our best move, but it still hurts me till this day to see over six months of work down the drain,” he said.
Being out of work has been difficult for Tejada after spending the last two years working events nonstop. “At first, I was in denial thinking this virus would pass by in two weeks. Slowly seeing all my concerts and tour dates cancel hurts very much, it gets to you, but I’m using this time as a detox phase in my life from the industry,” he said.
Learning new skills and focusing on his physical health Tejada isn’t looking at being out of work as a setback. “All I can say is stay home, be safe now so we can party later!