As OBX visitors come, questions remain for hospitality industry

By on May 7, 2020


In a coordinated effort among the three counties of the Outer Banks, the area will reopen to visitors on Saturday, May 16. When the rental homes, hotels and motels do reopen, it may appear to be business as usual. But for the people who work in the hospitality business, it will be anything but.

“This is new territory for everyone in every way imaginable. We’re in uncharted waters here,” Willo Kelly, Executive Director of the Outer Banks Association of Realtors said.

COVID-19 is influencing almost every decision property managers are making for their companies. Although some of the decisions may not be apparent to the public, there will be impacts.

“It’s a whole new world,” Dan Hardy, General Manager of Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates said. “The amount of time it’s going to take cleaners to perform the tasks has essentially doubled. You’ve got to first clean and then you have to go back and disinfect…It’s very difficult. We’re struggling to figure out how we can possibly change the job that we’ve done and been doing it for a long time, fifty years for us.”

The property managers interviewed agreed that the cleaning protocols required to maximize the safety of guests cannot not be accomplished in the usual amount of time. Check-out and check-in times are going to change because of that.

“One of the things that we’re talking about is changing our check in and check out time,” said Myra Ladd-Bone of Atlantic Realty. “We know that we’re going to have to do a lot of extra cleaning. Disinfecting, sanitizing, which is going to take our cleaners longer…We’re thinking about changing our check-in to five and our checkout to nine a.m. That would be two extra hours.”

She described the details of what will be involved in the second round of cleaning that will take so much time: “Now they’re talking like we’re going to have to sanitize the remotes, the light switches. Every touchable surface.”

According to the manager of a company that specializes in cleaning homes, more than 150 touch surfaces were identified in a two-bedroom, two-bath home, including door knobs, chain pulls for lights, and light switch plates.

The time that guests arrive and leave may not be the only thing affected by the new standards.

In the past, any problem in a home prompted a service call as quickly as possible. Social distancing guidelines will make that difficult.

“A guest calls in a problem and it doesn’t really matter what the problem is, in the past we’re on it,” Hardy said. “Now it’s going to have to be more of a triage-type fashion, where only the more serious problems are addressed, and we’re going to have to discuss this with our guests. They probably don’t want us coming in there either. We’re going to have to do much more on changeover days.”

Even the appearance of the maintenance personnel will be different.

“Our maintenance people will wear face masks and will wash their hands when they begin a project and when they complete it. We are also requiring our guests to keep clear of our maintenance personnel,” said Doug Brindley, President of Brindley Beach Vacations.

There are other issues that companies are grappling with as well. Soft surfaces are not as easily sanitized as countertops or a doorknob, although there are materials that do disinfect soft surfaces.

“There are some EPA approved disinfectant sprays that you can put on the soft surface surfaces,” Dare County Director of Health and Human Services Sheila Davies said. The spray disinfectants have been shown to be effective against corona viruses in general. However, they do take a while to work and should be given adequate time to disperse into the air.

Because of concerns about disinfecting soft surfaces, including comforters and pillows, property management companies are considering something that has not been part of the Outer Banks scene for years.

“We’ve got some things we’re doing with our bedding,” Monica Thibodeau, Managing Partner of Carolina Designs said. “Placing the comforters in the closet, to make people bring their own blankets or allow us to provide them with a blanket versus using the comforter that’s on the bed.”

It is an issue that Atlantic Realty is also confronting.

One thing that was suggested, noted Ladd-Bone, is “Let’s just give everyone a blanket. Who’s going to purchase all of these blankets up front? And then you’ve got to get them laundered every week. A lot of logistical stuff to get answered.”

Liz Askew, who works with Ladd-Bone raised another concern. “Now the guests have to bring comforters and pillows. It’s just not practical for a large family,” she said.

Property management companies are also dealing with how to accommodate guests who had Outer Banks reservations during the time that access to Dare and Currituck Counties was denied. The law is actually very clear on the subject, and as Willo Kelly explains, “the tenant is due a refund.” Once the area is open to visitors, however, those who cancel are not entitled to get their money back.

The big question that property management companies and county officials are pondering, though, is what happens if someone becomes ill with COVID-19 while vacationing on the Outer Banks. They could be asymptomatic when they arrive but develop symptoms over the course of the week. It is a scenario with no clear-cut answers.

“If you start showing symptoms you need to go home to your own health care provider,” Thibodeau said. “If someone becomes ill, they will go home…Who stays in a place they do not know?” Brindley echoed.

There are, however, complicating factors.

“When someone tests positive, they are basically under an isolation order from the local health director, and you’re supposed to stay isolated in your home unless you have to seek medical care,” Davies said.

She acknowledges, however, that in a tourist-based economy where a one-week stay is the norm, that may not be practical. If the house is already reserved for the following week, it is unclear whether someone who has tested positive could be required or allowed to stay. That, as Davies notes, creates another concern.

“Are we going to allow them to travel back if they’re symptomatic to wherever they came from? The concern with that is you’re going to spread the virus as you go if you make trips,” she said.

She also addressed the potential problem of someone being too sick to travel, but not sick enough to be in the hospital.

“We know one’s going to happen, so basically we need to locally make some provisions if they’ve got to leave that rental home because they’re weak and that they are too sick to travel, where they can go until they do feel well enough to go home,” Davies said.

There are other issues as well. HPPA guidelines create strict confidentiality of patient medical conditions. That creates some tricky situations,

According to an email from Davies following a conference call between county health directors and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, “If we have a positive COVID-19 case for an individual staying in a short term rental, we are to notify the facility of the necessary cleaning requirements that should be used, but not specifically state an individual tested positive for COVID-19,” she wrote.

Davies acknowledges that people will be able to infer that someone had tested positive for COVID-19, but the Health and Human Services Department is prohibited from stating that is the case.

There are protocols in place for cleaning a home after someone tests positive for the virus. “The recommendation is to open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation and wait 24 hours…to clean and disinfect. If you can’t wait 24 hours…wait as long as possible,” Davies said. “You can walk through in your mind some challenges for that.”

One of the issues that Davies raises is how important it will be for individuals to take responsibility for letting rental personnel know if there is a problem.

“We’re hoping companies will give guests an action letter that says, ‘Hey if, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, you start experiencing symptoms, we would greatly appreciate a courtesy call from us so we can prepare our housekeeping staff when they are cleaning your room at your departure,” she suggested.

Property management companies are also hoping for more active cooperation from their guests.

“Anything we do is going to require some personal responsibility on the part of the guests,” Thibodeau said.

In spite of the all the COVID-19 complications, owners and managers of local companies say they are confident about the upcoming season.

Ladd-Bone at Atlantic Realty has been hearing from guests anxious to get back to the Outer Banks. “When are you going to open? We’re ready to come,” she has been told.

“People who have reservations can’t wait to get here,” said Askew. “We expect they’ll be a big rush when things open up.”

“Overall, we’re looking at a good summer,” observed Thibodeau of Carolina Designs. “I’m not seeing a lot of people canceling their July and August.” She added that because there were no spring bookings, fall is looking stronger than usual. “With us trying to push these May reservations to the fall, we’re going to be busy this fall,” Thibodeau said. “I think we’re going to be all right.”


  • whyowhy

    it is not the owner of the house that has rented for a week or two that is responsible for the safety of the renter. It is the renter that should be smart enough to stay home and understand what a pandemic is. If they are willing to take the risk of going into society and play the roll of being on vacation, then it is their risk of the sickness and it lies on their shoulders. People today, vacationers, seem to feel that no matter what, they must vacation. As we call them here tourists, come have their fun, cause they feel they pay for it, but don’t look at the circumstances involved in others lives. Selfish they are with their actions. Those that don’t live here but own a house become greedy for the money from their renters, so they too are among those that are selfish. Locals that live here try their hardest to survive through the year. How dare the visitors (tourists) of this pandemic dare to bombard OBX just for their enjoyment with no understanding but for themselves. Sad what this world in society has become. All are out for themselves and no thoughts for others. OBX is not going anywhere, so why not, hold off this year stay home protect your families, enjoy at home those moments with your children and husbands and wives. Be happy you are alive for the coming year. Money and having fun is not what life is about. As I thought money was hard, as people lost jobs or are not working. So how do they still have the money to vacation? It stumps me much to understand how people are crying cause they have no money cause businesses close, yet they have the money to go on vacation. Today people are only for themselves and care not about others. Sad Sad Sad. Society today is spoiled and always want more at the risk of others.

    Friday, May 8 @ 5:55 pm
  • Robin Roper

    I agree with surf123 above. I worked as an inspector last summer and had at least 25, 4 floor homes. I ended up spending more time cleaning what the cleaners missed, and the guests in about 4 homes each week showed up at checkin before a cleaner arrived. Realtors would have to double up all personnel, and as Surf123 advised, a 6-day week rental would be give time for sanitizing. I thought of that last year in normal circumstances.

    Friday, May 8 @ 6:41 pm
  • Lara

    We will be staying home this summer. Not a safe or fun situation. I don’t think these issues can be addressed with any real sense of safety and the burden on OBX will be overwhelming. I sure don’t want to stand in line 6 feet apart to enter a souvenir store!

    Friday, May 8 @ 10:41 pm
  • BC

    Let’s see…… Infected visitor comes and becomes sick while here. Must guarantine somewhere but where? Our 20 bed “hospital” with no ICU can only do so much before they must airlift or transfer patients to another hospital… Their rental is already booked for another tourist the same day the sick tourist leaves so there’s another issue. Infected visitor probably has to shop before going to rental…. Are they using preventative measures to keep the proper distance? In the week that the flood gates have been opened to NRPO’s, the number of cases in Dare County has risen by 10-12 cases. We’ve been bIessed to have such a small number but that’s rising every day. Tourists are already getting in, talked to one from New York just this week. How many people is that one possibly infected person going to impact for some sun? How many people are they willing to put at risk. Seems selfish….. The virus can’t handle heat and humidity so just wait. We’re spending with locals as much as we can to help our locals. We are stayin home and practicing safe distancing. If everyone else would just be a little more patient and stay home, I believe this virus will be contained and safer all around.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 1:40 am
  • Bud

    I know a few house-cleaners that quit and picked up a safer job.
    There is still more work on Hatteras than our four sub-contractor teams can keep up with.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 7:23 am
  • Obxatheart

    Once again, not all “northerners” are coming from hot spots. Pennsylvania may still Have extended the stay at home order but it expires for the majority of the state May 15th at 12:01. There are still precautions to be made all over the world, this isn’t just an outer banks issue. Everyone all over the world is trying to figure out how to come back to some sense of normalcy while keeping themselves safe. An entire summer shut down on obx would be disastrous to the point that many of the full timers may no longer be able to live there. We all know the only reasons the state gives anything is for the tax revenue generated by guests, rental houses, tourism etc. Look beyond the island at what is happening to keep the economy moving while keeping yourself and your neighbors safe. See you next week…….

    Saturday, May 9 @ 7:28 am
  • C. V.

    My family and I would like to thanks the business leaders and community leaders who have decide to open up the OBX. We hope to meet you all that have been in favor of opening and hope to personally thank you.
    It has been a tough few months for us with all the silly restrictions such as staying at home, social distancing, wearing masks. All these silly restrictions have made it tough on my family we have still managed to meet millions of people. We especially like meeting older folks but we arent prejudiced and also like meeting younger folks also. We know some of the locals are not crazy about opening back up so soon. Let me and my family assure all you locals we are not rowdy, rude, noisy, we do not destruct property, and we dont drive like a bat out of hell as many of you locals seem to think we all do. Be assured my family will not need any cleaning supplies, toilet paper, or meat which are in very short supply on the OBX.
    We are only about meeting new people and your area offers very special opportunities for us.
    We plan an hitchhiking down with people from all over the world. We will be waiting quietly in the rental homes, businesses and hotels for you all. Cleaners and inspectors that includes you too. Surely you dont think a mini hotel home or even a two bedroom home can be cleaned enough to get rid of us all. Good luck with that LOL! We look forward to seeing you all soon. Lets get the summer of 2020 started. I know we cant wait!
    WIth our deepest appreciation
    CV and family

    Saturday, May 9 @ 8:04 am
  • Alison

    My family has been vacationing on Hatteras Island for decades. Your islands hold a special place in our hearts, and the last thing we want to do is put the wonderful locals at risk. We do stand to forfeit a significant amount of money if we choose not to come to the rental house, and the local economy will suffer without the tourism dollars. But no amount of money is worth people’s lives!!

    So in my humble opinion, more measures need to be taken before visitors are permitted:
    1)The housekeepers and other maintenance workers should all get hazard pay.
    2) Have guests in houses every other week to allowing ample time to clean/air out, and any remaining viruses will die. Refund or reschedule people who give up their week.
    3) Screen guests before they are permitted into their rental; if their state/region is still under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place prefers, refund/reschedule them.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 9:56 am
  • Trashcan Man

    As science learns more about the insidious nature of the transmission of this virus, it does not seem realistic that these cleaning protocols can be done in the time available on “flip day” and given that, how tourist season will last through June without a lot of people, tourists as well as locals, getting sick.
    The chances of a reversal of the decisions to allow tourists here and any other decisions to lessen mitigation efforts seems likely. Some of the resulting damage can never be undone.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 11:00 am
  • ronald

    BC. Where is your info regarding the increase of 10 -12 cases since the opened up for the Non Resident owners. I get the local everyday and haven’t seen anything along that line and did’t hear the Gov mention it. You just trying to start something just like CV and family above. Hopefully get the virus in real life. Wouldn’t that be KARMA.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 12:20 pm
  • VirusHereToStay

    The Virus is here to stay. There will not likely be any miracle cure or vaccine for a long time if ever. No vaccines for Hepatitis C, Herpes, HIV, and many others-failures by the thousands. What if there is a checkpoint on the bridge PREVENTING OBXers from leaving? Fair is fair. If you stay in your house you are going to be safe regardless of who shows up at the shoreline, but is that living? There are no easy answers. Property values are going to take a hit so if you want out do it now because it is only going to get worse once it is apparent this is not going to go away.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 12:44 pm
  • Zack Bass

    We’ve kept the virus at bay here. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 6:39 pm
  • Zack Bass

    Someone mentioned “silly restrictions”. We don’t think they are.

    Saturday, May 9 @ 6:41 pm
  • Human Utencil for the Rich

    Dare County Leaders!
    Look at comments above for what the people are screaming to get your attention.
    Many are those are on the Covid-19 Virus Prevention frontlines of OBX tourism.
    This is WILL be a deadly experiment.
    Please reconsider…………..

    Sunday, May 10 @ 5:51 am
  • Obxboxer

    I hope that all the cottage cleaners are standing up and demanding hazardous pay. As a local who talks to other local small bussiness owners I haven’t found one that wants to put wealth over health. I don’t personally know even one person that thinks the tourist should be allowed back yet. This was a short sighted money grab by the people who have multimillion dollar inventments. These are the same people who hire foreign labor instead on locals so they can rent them a tiny house and recoop 75% of the paycheck they got. The people that say open back up to everyone and anyone are the same people who have taken advantage of this great town and over developed and hurt our ecosystems. There was an outer banks in 60s and 70s and 80s that was great and beautiful and didn’t need kitty hawk kites or wings or mini motels. We need our human infrastructure more than a quick cash grab.

    Sunday, May 10 @ 7:19 am
  • John Boy Billy

    BC…oh my gosh, where to start….

    1) The number of cases in Dare County has increased by 3 over the past two weeks. Regardless, it is not the number of cases, it is a percentage of the number of cases versus the number of tests. We are testing more and as the law of statistics would tell you, the raw number of positives would go up, even though the percentage continues to drop.

    2) If you are talking to tourists, how are you also staying home?

    3) There are ZERO documented cases of people contracting the virus by touching a surface and then touching their eyes, nose, mouth (check the CDC site if you don’t believe me)

    4) The virus doesn’t just go away because people stay home. You have to build up herd immunity. And the facts are that most people that ‘have it’ are asymptomatic or not sick enough to go get a test (they think they have a regular cold).

    I do agree with your statement though. If you are scared/sensitive/whatever, then stay home. If you have to go out, be aware of who is in your surroundings, don’t touch your face until you wash your hands (or use sanitizer), and use good old common sense. But making everyone stay home because the media/social media is creating unnecessary panic.

    Sunday, May 10 @ 7:59 am
  • Steve

    “Deadly experiment”, that sums it up.
    Will be the season of keeping far away from tourists. Good thing we have beaches they do not go to.

    Monday, May 11 @ 7:45 am
  • dave C

    If you don’t want people to come and many of us would prefer to stay home, simply do the right thing and give us our money back. You can’t have it both ways. Many people have paid at least 1/2 the fee, some have paid in full. I’m trying to get my money back and not having any success.

    Monday, May 11 @ 10:16 am
  • Upset Tourist who doesn't want to come

    I am a tourist who is being “allowed” back to the island this first weekend and I DON’T WANT TO COME!!!!! My family and I want to stay safe at home, out of state!!! Our elderly parents do not want to travel, nor do we want them to. The rental agency, Outer Beaches Realty, will NOT refund our money, give a future voucher, or let us out of the agreement and claims the owner will not return their calls. It’s incredibly upsetting when we are trying to do the right thing and do not think we should have to pay for not showing up. Why are we being punished??? There should be a grace period of at least a month when people are allowed back on the island for those coming on to decide if they want to risk it or not.

    Monday, May 11 @ 1:05 pm
  • Travis


    There’s an easy answer to this problem, but the greed-heads won’t consider it. You go to every other week rentals. The house stays vacant a week, that’s plenty of time for the virus to die. We’re asking restaurants and other business to reduce the number of people they allow in to help create social distancing. The rental business should take the same approach and this is how you do it.

    The bonus/upside is if somebody staying at the house gets sick during the “fallow” week you’ll know for sure there is a problem there and can respond accordingly.

    Happily, the greed-heads will get theirs in the end because you can be sure if somebody gets sick staying in a rental home they are going to sue the property owner, the rental company and the cleaning service.

    Monday, May 11 @ 1:26 pm