South Florida hospitality workers struggling as tourists flock to other parts of the state amid coronavirus surge

The tourism industry is responsible for many South Florida jobs, but we're finding out what happens when nobody comes to visit.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The tourism industry is responsible for many South Florida jobs, but we're finding out what happens when nobody comes to visit.

New data shows tourists are still coming to Florida, they're just not coming to South Florida anymore.

South Florida always topped the list of places to go in the state, but these days people prefer the panhandle. Meanwhile, local workers are struggling with no end in sight.

Wendi Walsh’s organization Unite Here Local 355 chapter represents around 7000 South Floridians in the hospitality business.

"We have about 10 percent working," she told Local 10's Jeff Weinsier.

That's just 700 people currently working. Out of 7000.

Ines Santisteban was a housekeeper at The Diplomat in Hollywood for 18 years. That was until March 21, the last day she worked before being furloughed.

She used to be able to pay her bills on time.

“The money is going out but coming in a little bit,” Santisteban said. “We’re tight with money.”

While some places have opened, The Diplomat remains closed, assessing the situation week by week. The places that are reopening have only been hiring back a handful of workers.

"Even though they are closed, The Diplomat in Hollywood is closed and they have continued to provide health benefits for these workers," Walsh said. "And they will continue until the end of the year. Same with Marriott and Hyatt. That is good for us."

According to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau website, occupancy rates are down 61 percent.

"South Florida is not the hot vacation spot at the moment," Walsh said.

Instead of coming to South Florida, tourists are staying in Orlando, the panhandle and Tampa.

Those are the top three areas when looking at hotel rooms sold weekly.

Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade County used to be at the top of that list, but not anymore. They currently rank sixth and seventh, respectively.

Florida total hotel rooms sold, weekly ranking. (WPLG)

"The big concern for us is group business, convention business," said Walsh. "How long will it take before big scale conferences come back to South Florida? So we really have to get the virus under control."

As for Santisteban, she may not be working at The Diplomat, but she is employed, helping 40 other employees in her department navigate the unemployment process so they can get benefits.

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.