ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association has written a letter to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, requesting that he include workers in the hospitality and lodging industry in the next phase of eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations.

What You Need To Know

  • Lodging leaders say their employees need to receive vaccine next

  • The industry at its peak generated $90 billion per year, they say

  • Workers  would be more confident if they get vaccinated, industry leaders say

  • Hospitality workers have a lot of contact with public, bosses point out

“About 500,000 of our citizens are working in the industry," said Robert Agrusa, president and chief executive officer of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association (CFHLA).

Those numbers are staggering, according to Jay Leonard, general manager of the Wyndham in Lake Buena Vista.

“We’re one of the few hotels that never closed during this pandemic," Leonard said.

But since the start of the pandemic, the numbers at the Wyndham have been dropping.

“I personally feel like I’m on the front line," Leonard said. "I’m out there with my staff. I used to have 270 employees here at the hotel. I have 70 now.”

Leonard and Agrusa said they believe the vaccine will give their numbers a much-needed boost and help bring employees back to work.

“Certainly this pandemic has had crippling effects on the hospitality and lodging industry,” Agrusa said. “Certainly, as you’ve seen, we have one of the highest unemployment [rates] in the entire state."

In his letter to DeSantis, Agrusa points out that in a peak, prepandemic year, the hospitality and lodging industry rakes in about $90 billion.

For Leonard, safety and economic recovery go hand in hand.

“When you think of the general public of Orange County, and you start connecting all the dots, that hospitality worker has so many touch points," Leonard said.

The more shots in peoples’ arms, the more plane tickets in peoples’ hands, and the more hotel reservations on his books, Leonard said.

“I think travel will come back a lot quicker into our community,” he said. “And let’s face it, we need it. We’re struggling as a community to take care of things. And our employees deserve a lot more."