Catalina Island's once thriving tourism industry fighting to stay afloat

Catalina Island business owners are trying to stay optimistic amid the loss in tourism business because of the coronavirus pandemic.
SANTA CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. (KABC) -- Santa Catalina Island is one of the jewels of Southern California tourism. But this year the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has left the island's businesses struggling.

Each year around 1 million people escape to Catalina, just a quick ferry ride off the coast of downtown Long Beach.

But this year, as you'd expect, it's been quiet. The island, famous for its serene views and ocean activities, is welcoming fewer visitors than ever before. Its tourism industry is fighting to stay afloat.

"We will get through this. And when we do we're ready to pick up business where we left off," said Tom Conover, operator at Catalina Express.

Catalina Express ferry service was forced to cut back on trips as a result of decreased demand and increased cleaning procedures. Hotels on Catalina Island have made adjustments, too - supplying all employees and guests with personal protective equipment and investing in water misters and UV lights as additional tools to fight the spread of COVID-19.

"I think we're feeling more educated, feeling like we have better understanding of how to keep ourselves safe," said Cinde Macgugan-Cassidy, the mayor pro tem of the island's city of Avalon and a local business owner.

Some businesses are seeing a comeback. Beginning each evening at 5 p.m., Avalon allows restaurants to move operations onto the beaches.

Steve Bray, owner of Steve's Steakhouse and Maggie's Blue Rose, says it's something he's wanted to do for years.

"The people are really, really enjoying it and having a good time and they want us to do it all the time now," said Bray.

Tourism officials aren't seeing the big groups this year but SoCal families and couples are making their way back to this close, affordable island getaway.

"We're seeing an increased popularity in our outdoors activities, such as zip line, the aerial adventure, camping and the Catalina falconry experience. We're seeing a resurgence in our glass bottom boat tour, which is an open aired vessel," said Gina Long, senior vice president with Catalina Island Company.
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