Monterey County begins to reopen, but some tourists are hesitant to visit amid COVID-19

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- One week ago, restrictions on tourism in Monterey and Carmel were lifted, allowing some laid-off workers to return as businesses reopen.

But it's going to be a slow process.

A sea change happened when tourism reopened in one of California's most scenic and popular destinations.

Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf has shown signs of life as sheltering restrictions lifted, but it's not as though the economy has recovered overnight.

"What we're missing is the out-of-state and foreign visitors that generally come to Monterey and stay for the week," said Chris Shake with Fisherman's Grotto.

Just as the state's economy is reopening in stages, so is the return of tourism with a focus on coaxing day visitors who can drive in from the Bay Area, Sacramento and the Central Valley.

Some are ready, others say they're hesitant.

This is the first time friends Alyssa and Julie have gone anywhere in three months.

They're visiting Carmel and wearing face masks.

"I wouldn't say I'm hesitant, but I just pay attention to my surroundings and, you know, trying to be respectful of others as well," said Menlo Park resident Julie Farnham.

It's estimated more than 12,000 people working in this region lost their jobs when hotels, restaurants and attractions shut down. Some have been rehired, but some businesses remain closed.

Ted Balestrieri finds himself playing enforcer to make sure visitors follow safety protocols.

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"People walk in. You become a policeman. Where's your mask? You can't stand that close. You can't go to the bar. You have to be over here. It causes a little tension," said Balestrieri, CEO of the Cannery Row Company.

Restaurants are using disposable menus and condiments and they've stepped up sanitization.

Housekeepers at the Coachman's Inn are meticulous in following guidelines developed by a statewide hotel group to protect guests. Once a room is cleaned, they won't reenter until the guests leave, usually after two nights, to prevent contamination. The daily wine and cheese happy hour has been reinvented.

"It's now going to be a wine and cheese mini-picnic that guests, that are packaged for each guest, and they can pick it up and take it out for their adventures or enjoy it on the deck or in their guest room," said Tamara Mims.

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At The Forge in Carmel, they've noticed customers are more relaxed and staying longer because of social distancing and constant disinfection measures. Restaurant owners are sharing best practices with each other.

"There are 50 restaurants in our small 1.1 square miles here in Carmel, and we actually have meetings every Wednesday at 11 o'clock, Zoom meetings, to discuss exactly that," said Greg Profeta, owner of the Forge.

The region has plenty of attractions, even with the Monterey Bay Aquarium still closed. The city of Pacific Grove is experimenting with closing two sections of Lighthouse Avenue to encouraging dining and shopping.

There's no denying that some are worried about a second wave of closures if COVID-19 infections spike.

But the goal is to allow visitors to know their safety is paramount when they're ready to return.

Jobs are counting on that.
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